Bias and misstatements don't alter amount of dues

The bias of the article last month by Nancy McCarthy concluding without virtually any meaningful analysis that "to the extent comparisons can be made, California's discipline system appears to be more efficient and cost effective" is apparent. Her position is understandable because she is, after all, a staff writer.

The outrageous misstatements of fact by Maurie Evans, a district attorney at that, are less forgivable. In doing a comparison of other professions regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs, he states: "Some of these professionals, including doctors, pay more than $1,000 per year in equivalent fees." Nonsense.

Please explain why it costs me $200 more each year to be licensed as a lawyer in California than to be licensed as a physician. Consider the old canard that I spoke following my swearing-in ceremony in 1973 (to my mother's extreme embarrassment): "Gee, Mom, I'm a doctor and I have a license to kill and now I'm a lawyer and have a license to steal." Does that mean it costs the state more to protect people's money than their lives?

If I practice law until the year 2003 (1973-2003), how is my extra $6,000 to benefit me, or, for that matter, the public?

Good for Sen. Quentin Kopp. We lawyers should be regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs just as other professions.

Griffith D. Thomas

In defense of California's discipline system

There is no one "best" discipline system and each state's system reflects the expectations of their public and lawyer members. New York, the second largest jurisdiction with over 130,000 members, is noteworthy for its significant underfunding and Bosnia-Herzogovina type divisiveness. The most shared attribute is a paucity of funding. Professional discipline staff in New York decry their lack of resources.

The system lacks continuing legal education or diversion or preventive programs such as ethics school. It also lacks lawyer referral services, alternative dispute resolution, mentoring programs, probation programs, mandatory fee arbitration programs, or any type of ethics hotline or law office management program. One clearly gets what one pays for in New York. Neither the lawyer nor the public get much.

California protects the public yet provides remedial programs for attorneys to address the cause of the disciplinary problem both before and after the problem arises. Imitation, it has been said, is the grandest form of flattery. The systems, the processes, the ideas and the services created and provided by the California discipline system have been emulated across the country. The lawyers of California have made it so, and for that effort no modesty is needed.

Francis P. Bassios
Deputy Chief Trial Counsel, State Bar

Why does it cost so much?

Crunching through the many statistics about bar discipline in 1995, I note the following:

1. The bar received about 144,000 contacts to the effect that some lawyer was doing something wrong;

2. Only about 6,000 of these, or 4 1/4 percent, were serious enough to merit any type of investigation;

3. About 11 percent of the investigations (664) resulted in any form of discipline. This is less than 1/2 percent of the contacts and less than 1/2 percent of the number of members of the bar.

All of this was done for the low, low price of about $36 million or about $50,000 per lawyer disciplined.

All right thinking lawyers agree that the State Bar must administer discipline to keep the few miscreants in line, but we do not understand how in the world it can cost so much.

Having the best system in the world is not sufficient justification for the more than $300 each attorney pays from dues each year. Cutting $1 million out of the $36 million is not a sufficient answer. The fact that other professions pay more is not a sufficient answer. That we once had a tremendous backlog is no longer a sufficient answer.

Most attorneys will listen to a reasonable explanation. Tell us why the system costs so much to operate.

Griffith D. Thomas

How about helping us make a living?

Maybe "disciplining errant lawyers is the bar's biggest task," but maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe the bar's biggest task should be helping lawyers make a living.

Almost all the lawyers I know perceive the State Bar as an obstacle, if not an outright opponent, in their attempt to survive in the practice of law, and like myself, can't wait to say so in the upcoming plebiscite. Most of us feel that it's time for an association of lawyers whose primary function is to help us - not cut us down - who will set about to improve our image in the eyes of the public and help us to once again become, as we used to be, a proud profession.

It seems to me that the State Bar has seen its primary function as protecting the public from the big, bad lawyers. Well, bye-bye, State Bar.

Donald B. Brown

Service and fairness to new lawyers earn a zero

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction at the way new admittees are treated by the unified bar and to say that I will probably vote against the unified bar as a direct result.

Like Jeffrey Lustman (March letters), I had an initial MCLE compliance obligation of 14 hours for the period from December 1992 to January 1994 and completed substantially more course work than I can obtain credit for. Allowing new admittees with short enrollment periods a carry-forward of MCLE credit would better serve the public. Lustman and I were both penalized by the bar for no more weighty reason than its own administrative convenience; if our last names began with a different letter, our initial compliance period might have been longer. Result: administrative convenience, 1, service and fair treatment to new members, 0.

I also object strenuously to the Feb. 1 scaled fee cutoff date. I believe my income would qualify for scaled fees, but because I have not been able to complete my tax returns by Feb. 1 or give a declaration in good faith by that date, I have to pay full fees. The bar should either allow scaled fees for payment by the March 8 default date or provide refunds to those who file timely returns. Result: administrative convenience, 2, service and fair treatment to new members, 0.

Michael D. Leamon
San Diego

Deserving more respect

The cover article in the February issue on the history of California bar numbers was interesting and entertaining. I was dismayed to see, however, the appointment of Ming W. Chin to the California Supreme Court was relegated to approximately one paragraph on the bottom of page 40. Justice Chin deserves far more respect and admiration from our State Bar than that.

Judith E. Miller
Los Angeles

Remember oral bar exams? Please tell me

I am interested in the early bar examinations (pre-1930), particularly the oral bar exams. If any readers recall their bar exam experiences or the experiences of others (hearsay is admissible in historical research), I would appreciate a note.

900 N. Street
Sacramento CA 95814

Bizarrely unfair to a federal attorney

As an IRS attorney practicing in the U.S. Tax Court, I am required by IRS rules to be a member of the bar of one state, regardless of where my IRS office is located. When I transferred from the IRS national office in Washington, D.C., to the IRS district office in Laguna Niguel, I was already a member of the bars of Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

As an IRS attorney not practicing in state court, I was not obliged to be admitted to the California bar. Under California bar rules, federal lawyers such as myself are not considered "practicing law in California." In fact, most attorneys in my office hold membership in a bar other than California.

Nevertheless, a few years after coming to California, I sat for the California bar and was admitted. Due to the exorbitant annual bar dues, I later decided to relinquish active California bar status unless and until I leave the government.

Though I engage in no legal work beyond the duties of my full-time IRS position, and though I am an active member of another state bar, the California bar will not now permit me to go inactive. Their rationale: only members of the California bar are permitted to "practice law in California."

Ironically, most of my IRS attorney colleagues are not members of the California bar and are not considered "practicing law in California." It seems bizarrely unfair that while a federal attorney is not legally required to be a member of the California bar, once a member, he or she is not permitted to be inactive. The bar's position lacks any rationale other than grubbing for dues.

Louis B. Jack
Laguna Niguel

Expert panel should weigh expert testimony

After Simpson, isn't it time we change some of our criminal justice procedures? California criminal procedure allowed a grossly unqualified lay jury to decide questions of fact on technical subjects integral to Simpson's guilt.

The jury simply was not competent to make such evaluations. Jurors neither had the education nor specialized experience necessary to analyze the mass of conflicting data and protracted arguments presented to them by the parties.

A procedural change that should be considered is to submit technical questions of fact that require expertise beyond that of the ordinary person, to a panel composed of impartial and qualified experts and that would submit its findings to the lay jury with instructions that it must accept as true the panel's findings.

In Simpson, I suspect this suggested procedure would not have changed that jury's acquittal, but it may have provided the prosecution with effective appellate review of that corrupt verdict.

Bill Scott
La Quinta

Another long-lived law firm

I read with interest the letter of Frederick C. Dockweiler, who is a member of a family firm founded in 1889. There is always some SOB raining on the party and in this case I guess I am it because my firm of Millington & Millington has been in continuous practice in California since 1884.

I finished Stanford law school in 1950 and was admitted to the bar that year. I am still practicing but my kids are too smart to be lawyers and, like Mr. Dockweiler, on my death or retirement the family law firm that has continually existed since 1884 will terminate. I was brainwashed by my father and became a lawyer against my better judgment. I would much rather have followed the footsteps of Nelson Eddy or John Charles Thomas, but as Abe Lincoln said, "At least the practice of law puts bread and butter on the table."

Robert Millington

Save the Fifth Amendment

I am delighted to note that Judge C. Douglas Smith is retired. It would be lamentable if a sitting judge today were to hold so low an opinion of the Fifth Amendment as to urge its demise (March letters).

Smith writes the amendment "protects only the guilty. An innocent person does not need the protection of the Fifth Amendment." It is obvious Judge Smith has not read Dean Griswold's lectures on that very subject, "The Fifth Amendment Today." And that he has forgotten the history out of which the privilege was born.

Just as today we want none of the practice of the use of torture to obtain information about crimes which could not otherwise be disclosed, we should want none of the practice of requiring a person to furnish evidence against himself. As Griswold says, "We do not make even the most hardened criminal sign his own death warrant or dig his own grave or pull the lever that springs the trap on which he stands." No more should we require a person to convict him/herself.

Fred Okrand
Sherman Oaks

In defense of FedEx

Though we were never able to determine the exact cause of columnist Martin Dean's problem with downloading FedEx Ship software, it is designed to be compatible with a wide array of configurations. Yet, as software users know, many desktop systems are unique and do sometimes require that additional steps be taken during the installation process.

In regard to the confidentiality issue, readers should know the FedEx upgrading process is unique to our software and is not accessible by any other software provider, and, conversely, the software does not touch or alter any other data in a directory except our own. It is specifically written to prevent interaction with any other software.

Laurie A. Tucker
Federal Express Corp.