California Bar Journal
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At the mercy of the rebels it created
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A variety of different theories has been offered as to why the political system is currently savaging the California Bar Association (CBA). I believe that there is a central element that unifies most of these theories. That being that the “A” in CBA has come to stand for arrogance.

As a practicing attorney for the last 16 years, I have watched the anger toward the actions of the CBA grow. While the CBA has always had the power of the state to impose its will on the minority, until the last 20 years, the CBA tempered the use of this power with respect for dissenting opinions and avoided imposing its will outside its core functions.

There is now a consensus view of those outside the CBA leadership that the CBA has become an arrogant unprincipled organization that no longer can be trusted to perform certain tasks fairly. Is this a fair judgment? Consider the five scarlet letter A’s that the CBA has received recently:

1. For 16 years, the CBA has stolen interest from client trust accounts. This theft by the CBA was used to finance various liberal welfare programs thought to be deserving by the CBA. No one forgave or forgot this abuse of power. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued the first scarlet letter to the CBA by upholding an appeals court ruling in a Texas IOLTA case.

2. The CBA imposed a continuing education requirement on all attorneys replete with politically correct courses. Again, it took the courts to issue the scarlet letter A to the CBA and strike down exemptions for legislators, judges and law professors.

3. The CBA has been arrogant enough to claim that the entire amount of non-mandatory dues spent for political activities was only $1 of the $458 we were required to pay. No one was fooled and the bar members who were forced to pay their bar dues to subsidize various liberal political causes recognized the arrogant use of power that the CBA engaged in to force each bar member to pay to subsidize political activities that many members viewed as abhorrent.

4. The CBA arrogantly abused the JNE (Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation) procedure when the governor’s nominee to the Supreme Court was not sufficiently liberal to suit the CBA’s taste. As a result, the CBA will probably either lose JNE or JNE itself will be abolished.

5. The final scarlet letter A was awarded to the CBA by the governor, who in response to numerous fiscal abuses, including paying State Bar officials more than the governor and than judges, vetoed the bar fee bill. The governor’s veto put to the test a very interesting question. If the CBA was bankrupt and disappeared, would anyone miss it? The obvious answer is no. In the last 20 years, it has squandered its political base and now is at the mercy of the rebels it has created.

The CBA leadership needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Their opponents are committed in their belief that the CBA simply cannot be trusted to be the only self-governing state agency in California.

The CBA should give up JNE, IOLTA, the Conference of Delegates, all lobbying except on the CBA budget, and continuing education.

The board of governors should be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, or should become an arm of the California Supreme Court.

These moves would bring an opportunity for a new start.

Even career criminals receive only three strikes. With five-plus strikes, the CBA needs to accept responsibility for its actions and begin to attempt to re-establish that it can be trustworthy.

Michael J. Schroeder is chair of the California Republican Party and of counsel with Hart King & Coldren in Irvine.