Dissent from public member should be praised . . .
. . . for giving rank-and-file a voice
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by Jo Ellen Allen in her editorial, "Losers donít forfeit right to dissent" (September Bar Journal).
It is nice to see that a few members of the State Bar Board of Governors oppose the board taking controversial political positions.
So long as we are forced to be members of the bar and have no choice as to how our dues are spent, the bar should stay out of the political arena.
Three cheers for Ms. Allen. Keep up the good work.
James R. Edwards
. . . whether you agree with it or not
How refreshing it was to read the common sense remarks of Jo Ellen Allen. She is on target, and I urge her to continue her efforts.
This should be seen as high praise since it comes from an attorney who did not believe that non-lawyers should be acting as part of the barís governing body.
The majority of bar leadership in this state long ago left the "mainstream" in favor of being "advocates" for other social and special interest groups and organizations. On a good day, the leadership simply abandons its membership; on a bad day, it penalizes them.
Allenís willingness to stand up and point a finger at attorneys who are using their skills and training to avoid the limitations imposed by Keller is to be praised, whether you agree with her or not. Lawyers have traditionally been the only effective element that prevents the underdog from being overwhelmed by what is considered to be the prevailing view (politically correct view). Instead, as a lay person, she alerts us to the activities of our elected (and appointed) lawyer governing body circumventing the clear directions and limitations imposed upon it by the Supreme Court in Keller. When vigorous and well-reasoned dissent becomes anathema to the existing bar, then perhaps it is time to destroy the bar as it exists.
Bless you, Jo Ellen Allen, for your efforts to protect the interests of a wonderful group of attorneys within this state who donít believe in the positions taken by what appears to be the majority of the bar leadership.
Richard P. Neuland
Ours is supposed to be the healing profession
I intend to wave Harrison Sheppardís op-ed piece (September Bar Journal) under everyoneís noses and say, "See? I told you so."
I have maintained for some time that providing useful, affordable service to the underserved public (and the number of pro pers in this state is staggering) is the single best way to raise the public image of attorneys and our own collective self-esteem.
This is my entire practice now. Consulting, mediation and conflict resolution.
The Hon. Dorothy Nelson, Ninth Circuit, said to me recently, "Ours is supposed to be a healing profession." I found out then that I was not the only lawyer in the state who thought so.
In defense of capital appeal appointments
Several attorneys have written about being turned down for a death penalty appeal appointment. At the risk of being shot at with barbed verbal arrows, let me rise to the defense of Mr. Reichmanís decisions.
It is important that attorneys handling these cases have a fair amount of appellate experience. The minimum requirements can be found at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/supremecourt/appeals.htm.
Personally I would add the requirement of at least one LWOP appeal in a case tried as capital. And I would add some precursors to that, in stepladder fashion: at least several first degree murder appeals prior to the LWOP appeal, several lesser degree homicide appeals before that, and a pile of other felony appeals before that.
I would hazard a guess that virtually all of us on the panel have handled at least 50 felony appeals; many of us have handled more than 100; some of us have hit the 150 mark.
Although this check is not scientific, run a Law Desk or WestLaw check on the attorney names you see to determine how many reported decisions they have. Hint: those handling principally capital appeals recently will have most of their cases in the 3d series.
Those qualified, but only handling non-capital cases now, should have several hits in the 3d and 4th series. Draw your own conclusions.
Listen to the letter writers
I congratulate the people who run the letters to the editor portion of this paper for printing letters critical of the bar.
Month after month, a vast majority of such letters are very critical of the barís performance. A common theme is that the bar is attempting to put solo and small firm attorneys out of business with useless and stupid mandatory programs.
Apparently, the people who make policy decisions for the bar do not read the letters to the California Bar Journal. Despite the vehement, clear, uniform and often emotional protest from members to the path which they are taking, down the same old path we continue to march.
It should be obvious by now that this bar does not care about its members or what they think and will never change. For fear of the unknown, we missed a golden opportunity to get rid of the mandatory everything bunch.
If there is ever another vote, the correct result would be reached if everyone answered one simple question before voting ó what possibly could be worse than what we have now?
Donald J. Horvath
Limited reciprocity maintains competence
Mr. McKoneís letter (September Bar Journal) addressing reciprocity of State Bar admission merits comment and correction. California does indeed have a limited form of reciprocity: the attorney exam eliminates the MBE portion for attorneys licensed to practice in other jurisdictions for a given number of years. For these attorneys, the bar exam is reduced from three days to two.
Neither Washington, Oregon or Nevada grants reciprocity in any form, which means even those of us licensed in California have to take the full exam, including the MBE portion.
I believe the California bar has adopted the right approach by extending only limited reciprocity to attorneys from other states.
California is known for the high standards set by the bar exam, and for those of us who do pass the exam, it is indeed an accomplishment to be proud of. To wit, the February 1997 bar exam saw only a 48.8 percent pass rate, with only 36.7 percent being first-time takers.
I count myself as a proud member of that distinguished minority, and when other states such as Nevada have an 85 percent pass rate (winter 1996) for first-time takers, I think the figures demonstrate the variance in standards required for bar admission.
Full reciprocity is not a concept that will maintain the integrity of the State Bar of California.
Diane L. Abraham
Passing the bar exam ó every five years
Now that mandatory continuing education has been ruled unconstitutional, it is timely to renew my proposal, originally made and rejected when MCLE was first under consideration.
The State Bar first determined it had confidence in the legal ability of each of us by reason of our having passed the bar examination.
It should not now seek to revive the cumbersome MCLE apparatus, with "courses" in new age stress relief and the like, when it can instead stay with the old reliable bar exam.
Membership in the bar should be granted for five years. If, after five years, a member wishes to continue practicing, he or she need only retake and pass the bar exam, thereby renewing the confidence of the State Bar in his or her continuing abilities.
Unless the member has been in trouble, the character and fitness formalities should be waived.
John D. Lyon
Sunscreen and ethics to meet MCLE requirements
The letter in the August edition from inactive member Elliot R. Smith of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, concerning the dues for inactive lawyers is not without good cause or historical precedence.
If Mr. Smith would drive to the Library of Congress, or its Cook Islands equivalent, and research the several biographies of Paul Gauguin which they have in their vast collection, he would note that Mr. Gauguin rebelled at paying the inactive dues demanded of him by the Paris Bourse.
While Mr. Gauguin made a clean break of things (so to speak) by forsaking his former profession, the outpouring of letters in opposition to mandatory MCLE in the letters column of your August edition indicates that it would be wise for Mr. Smith to consider financing his dues by offering MCLE courses in Rarotonga.
If Mr. Smith could put together a 36-hour program, inclusive of all the required ethics and substance abuse courses and inclusive of several tubes of 15-plus sunblock, for under $500 he could easily afford his inactive dues.
Paul N. Crane
Paying your fees makes you active
According to the discipline story under "caution" in September, "more than 156,000 attorneys are eligible to practice law in California." According to "numbers of the bar" in the same publication, there are 123,328 active members. The inactive members are more than one/fifth of the total, i.e., 32,790. Apparently someone thinks the inactive members are, or should be, allowed to engage in active practice.
Mandatory pro bono is the equivalent of slavery
According to Timothy Lee Davis (August Bar Journal), we have a moral "obligation" to serve the poor for free.
Although he advocates discharging that alleged obligation voluntarily, the obvious question for the advocates of mandatory pro bono is: What is to be done about those lawyers who donít? Are they not guilty of breaching their "obligation," thus depriving the poor of something that is rightfully theirs?
In the face of a refusal to serve, wouldnít the poor have every right to enforce their claim to that which Davis acknowledges we already owe them? You cannot pave the moral road to the enslavement of the legal profession and not expect them to travel it.
People often help one another in a free society, including myself and Mr. Davis. However, our refusal to do so is not immoral.
Obligations are chosen. The idea that we have an obligation to be anotherís uncompensated servant can only mean one thing in practice ó it means that some men are entitled to resort to the use of force in order to obtain our services. It means slavery.
Gregory P. Turza
Dump the chief justice for abortion decision
From the rather too-complimentary PR piece on the new chief justice (September Bar Journal), one might draw the impression that he is a hands-on hard worker, concerned with the efficiency of the judges in the trenches and ready to roll up his sleeves to help. This is no doubt the impression he wants us to swallow.
Yet his true character is manifest not in the planned text and posed photos, but in his deliberate act to exalt his agenda above the will of the people. Over a decade ago, a law was passed that required parental consent should a minor seek to kill her child by abortion. The Supreme Court found the law constitutional. That should have been the end of the story.
But then entered Ronald George in his new chief justice robes. By a questionable legal tactic, he recalled the issue to the court, knowing it now had a pro-abortion majority. And the new court held ó surprise ó that the law is unconstitutional.
This new chief justice has undermined the will of the people by his machination. I say he should be thrown off the court immediately. It is time to put an end to his charade of objectivity.
William G. Gillespie
Prop. 209: foolish placebo
Tina Rasnowís tired rhetoric (June Bar Journal) that Proposition 209 is "degrading to women" because "women currently face discrimination on a daily basis," etc., probably washes well with her sister feminists but is actually nonsense.
Both sexes face discrimination daily for one non-degrading reason or another, and women probably receive more than their share of favorable discrimination.
Since Proposition 209 has the same effect as the failed ERA, which presumably Ms. Rasnow did support, her muddle might alert us to the hazards of too much law-making. She and her sister lawyers can still bring endless lawsuits under 209 based on their sex, so little has changed.
209 is an unwise law ó a foolish placebo ó but not for the reason that Ms. Rasnow claims. Like the 1964 act, it merely surrenders more of our freedoms to the courts, and thus can hardly cure our "anti-discrim" plague rooted in the earlier language.
Are we the land of the free and home of the brave, or a nanny state?
Instead of getting mired in confusion from our excessive absorption with "equality," "rights," "anti-discrimination," etc., we should return to debating things like "freedom," "the power of grace," "brotherly love," "ladies and gentlemen."
W. Edward Chynoweth
The barís health plan is not too healthy
One thing the bar does not do for its members is provide for good health insurance at a reasonable cost. In fact, the coverage offered through the Blue Cross Group provider plan now seems to offer the worst coverage at the highest prices available to any group I have heard of.
My own bar-approved coverage for myself, my wife and one college student son costs $2,154 per quarter with a $5,000 deductible per family member for partial coverage, and all prescription benefits have recently been lifted.
We intend to drop this plan and acquire a non-group policy elsewhere, with a low deductible and freedom of physician choice. The insurance coverages in the health and disability areas offered by the bar are a bad deal and not at all better than can be obtained individually.
This is either indifference on the part of the bar leadership to its members, or I am missing something here.
Richard E. King Jr.
Praise for senior staff members who left bar
I am writing to correct a misperception that was conveyed in an article in the September Bar Journal about the decision of four senior executives to leave the bar this year.
The article states that my announcement that I was retiring this fall as executive director of the State Bar "precipitated" the departures of these four individuals.
The negative implication is clear, but itís untrue.
These four senior executives left to pursue other professional and personal opportunities that were superior to anything the bar could offer them now or in the near future.
Diane Yu, general counsel, became a high-level corporate executive in the law organization at Monsanto Co.
Stuart Forsyth, senior executive for State Bar Court and later member and client services, accepted the post of executive director of the State Bar of Arizona.
Jackie Reinhardt, senior executive for communications and public education, became an executive vice president of Brown & Toland, a major health care concern.
Karen Betzner, senior executive for the competence unit, chose to take a leave of absence for personal and family reasons.
Of all the achievements and events which took place during my tenure as executive director, none gives me more pride or pleasure than knowing that people I recruited are so highly regarded for their talents and accomplishments by others.
I am delighted at their success, as well of that of other senior executives who chose to leave in past years.
The State Bar will sorely miss the institutional knowledge and passionate dedication to public service that these individuals provided for so many years.
It is unfortunate that the news of their departure carried with it anything but praise for them and regret at our loss.