Letters to the Editor

New lawyer should get facts straight and be proud

Michael Schulte is correct when he criticizes the editor for equating "important" cases to those involving large plaintiffs' awards. But he has apparently forgotten that our tort system is designed to compensate for injury where there is any fault. Undoubtedly, Mr. Schulte's legal education did not include a study of the effects of Prop. 51, which apportions fault and requires the reduction of awards based on that apportionment.

What it all seems to boil down to, however, is that those with deep pockets would seek to escape liability for their fault on the sole basis that the plaintiff is seeking an award (read, "their money"). Why don't corporations and wealthy individuals compromise and offer an apology along with a fair measure of compensation when they conclude they have been at fault? Probably for two reasons: first, it's not good business, and second, they are probably afraid that doing so will encourage those with clearly less meritorious cases to file. And Mr. Schulte concludes that lawsuits result from greedy lawyers.

Any thoughtful approach to such complex matters will avoid a "one answer" solution. Certainly, there are greedy lawyers, just as there are greedy clients, lazy and zealous lawyers and incompetent judges, just as there are brilliant and dedicated judges. And ambitious, thoughtless, unprincipled and immature politicians add to our legal system's burdens. Our system of justice needs careful support and thoughtful assistance, not thoughtless criticism.

Russell S. Balisok
Los Angeles

Michael Schulte may see an "award" as a prize. Noah Webster sees it first as a judgment, sentence or decision; second as a notice of the same, and only third as a prize. The word should not disgust a lawyer, and I hope that Mr. Schulte will modify his evaluation of lawyers and of the practice of the law.

Dick Farrell
North Hills

Michael Schulte identifies himself as a "new member of the bar." His letter raises serious objections and utter disgust for the Bar Journal's designation of plaintiff's verdicts as "important trials." He also objects to your use of the word "award" in describing some plaintiff verdicts, claiming it suggests a prize or a trophy.

My dictionary defines "award" as "a judgment, sentence or final decision." BAJI instruction 14.00 instructs the jury that if it finds plaintiff entitled to a verdict, "you must then award plaintiff damages." I think Mr. Schulte should investigate the facts a bit deeper before he complains.

More disturbing is his suggestion that with his newly acquired bar card has come the ability to find simple solutions to substantial problems.

Mr. Schulte pronounces that "the underlying problem with the tort system is that it shifts the blame to the deepest pocket and justifies that transfer." I think he should get his facts together before analyzing "the underlying problem." I urge him to heed the words of John Adams, written in December 1770, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, or inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

In a new book, the ABA tries to debunk many widely held myths concerning the civil justice and tort system. Citing investigative studies of litigation in the U.S., it states that research "does not support the widely made claims that jury damage awards are based on the depth of defendant's pockets, sympathies for plaintiffs, caprice or excessive generosity."

Mr. Schulte also condemns as greedy an unnamed lawyer for representing someone injured as the result of a guard rail that failed. He further attacks the lawyer for convincing his client that the client was without fault and proclaims the lawyer an "embarrassment to the legal profession."

Mr. Schulte's concluding mixed metaphor betrays his motive. He fears he "will suffer at the hands of the public which will categorize me as the same quality of human being."

I hope that Mr. Schulte would defend his new profession and be proud of those lawyers who represent and advocate the cause of injured members of the public. He should be proud and honored by his new profession and the role it plays in obtaining justice, including compensation, for those who need it.

Jacques M. Adler
San Francisco

Plebiscite offereda no-win choice

I am politically and philosophically conservative, and so tend to choose the devil I know over the devil I don't.

For this reason, I intentionally abstained from voting in the plebiscite. The option given to the membership by this vote was: (a) an arguably bloated bureaucracy which appears to spend the members' fees fairly extravagantly, versus; (b) a system which was undefined, supervised by unknown persons (with informed speculation being that lawyer bashers would hold the reins), at an unknown monetary cost.

Is a discipline and professional oversight system needed? Yes, but that was never really the question. The question is whether we can maintain and even improve our profession with less bureaucracy and cost.

If a well-defined and planned alternative is offered to the present structure of the mandatory bar, I will carefully weigh and consider it versus the system now in place and make an informed decision based upon the facts presented. But the plebiscite was nothing more than a slanted and ethically loaded question in the guise of an opinion poll and not worthy of either my time or my vote.

The results of the vote reflect, if nothing else, the fact that the members refuse to jump from a known frying pan into a likely fire. On the whole, the plebiscite was an enormous waste of time and money, which in itself is an indictment of both the bar's leadership and those proposing the ill-defined alternative.

William A. Clough

Let me volunteer!

As I plan to retire next year, I've been considering volunteer work I might do. To my dismay, I discovered I would have to pay the $400 plus to make my bar membership active. I applied for emeritus status and was denied; my membership has been inactive for 10 years while I served as an administrative law judge for the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The emeritus program requires recent active practice, but makes an exception for judges. I am informed I do not qualify because I am not a "real" judge -- although the regulations contain no definition of judge.

I can see no reason in logic or policy why someone wanting to contribute volunteer services should be discouraged. If the bar is interested in improving its image in the public eye, surely the more pro bono work done, the better. I understand that less than 100 attorneys statewide participate in the emeritus program -- not exactly a figure to be proud of.

Nancy Salzman
Administrative law judge
California Unemployment Insurance
Appeals Board

Don't hang up; BMW apologizes

Bar President James Towery recently contacted BMW to express the legal community's concern over one of the BMW's current advertisements.

The ad in question carries the headline "20 things you should do in this lifetime." It offered a list of 20 captivating and entertaining things to do which we felt would elicit a smile by prompting introspection. Along with teaching a class, planting a tree and flying on the Concorde, the final item is a new 7 Series sedan. BMW also put tongue in cheek and included on the list "hang up on a lawyer."

Some lawyers who contacted BMW said they enjoyed the line; others wrote to say it was offensive. Since our sense of humor was not universally embraced and we did not intend to offend anyone, BMW elected to change the line. BMW hopes the new list will elicit a smile from everyone, and we apologize that the first list missed the mark with some of you.

James L. McDowell
Vice President, Marketing,
BMW of North America Inc.

Summarize the summaries

I find it most inconvenient that, while you report the matters of discipline, these actions are not listed in summary form, either at the beginning of the report or at the end. It would be most helpful if you did so.

I take the discipline reports seriously and try to keep a record so I will be aware if I am dealing with a disciplined attorney. It is most difficult to keep a record when one must sort through all the reports and condense the information.

Daryl D. Hansen

California Bar Journal invites its readers to send letters on any topic. All letters must be signed with a daytime telephone number and complete address (only the city or town will be used in print). All letters are subject to editing, and no anonymous letters will be printed. Send letters to Editor, California Bar Journal, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco, CA 94102-4498; fax to 415/561-8247; or e-mail: calbarj@ix.netcom.com.