|I joined the State Bar Board of Governors last October, just two weeks
before Gov. Wilson vetoed the dues bill. As an "insider," I have learned much
about the State Bar through discussions with former governors and others. Further, I have
observed the inner workings of the board during my short tenure.
About two decades ago,
the bar diverted from its traditional role as a licensing, regulatory and disciplinary
organization. Its course was enlarged to include partisan-oriented goals.
Similar to a river that jumps its levees, the bar was diverted into two different
channels, the mainstream and a second channel. Before long, it was more important to
devote member dues and staff to this secondary, partisan channel. Moreover,
extraordinarily high dues were needed to fund this course. A different bar association
emerged, openly partisan without regard to the wishes of our members.
Board members, in turn, became more concerned about the secondary channel to enhance
their presidential aspirations. It was important to be seen as a "leader" by
creating new programs if a governor wanted to be elected president. Accordingly, it became
insufficient to merely be concerned about traditional licensing, regulatory and
disciplinary functions of the bar.
This secondary channel, cut off from the mainstream, eventually became a bog of
personalities, partisanship and presidential politics. Recent events confirm that the
board of governors has become bogged.
Curiously, the board of governors refers to itself by the abbreviation "BOG,"
an apt description. It is time to close this
diversionary channel by draining it of personalities, partisanship and presidential
politics and return our full resources (and lower dues) to the traditional functions of a
licensing, regulatory and disciplinary organization.
The best way to drain the bog, returning the State Bar to the mainstream, is to create
a new board of governors primarily appointed by the California Supreme Court.
These new governors would be representative of the different types of practicing
lawyers in California; i.e., sole practitioners, small law firm lawyers, young lawyers,
mature lawyers, large law firm lawyers, transactional lawyers and governmental lawyers.
These newly appointed governors, from different geographic areas of the state, would join
with several public (non-attorney) governors appointed by the governor and the legislature
to form a new board.
The newly constituted governors would serve for a two-year term, subject to being
reappointed by the Supreme Court for an additional two-year term. Service would be limited
to a maximum of four years.
To assure continuity, a president-elect position would be created. Further, the
president and the president-elect must be lawyers. The new board would commence in January
The overall membership size of the board would be reduced. Seventeen members, which
Gov. Wilson suggested, is the right number to assure diversity of opinions, practice areas
and other appropriate concerns.
Would a new board of governors perform better? Yes! The Supreme Court will appoint
qualified, moderate, non-partisan lawyers who are concerned about traditional regulatory
functions. Presidential politics will subside. The public and practicing lawyers will
benefit. Our dues, in turn, will remain lower forever. Accordingly, I am encouraging Gov.
Wilson and the legislature to reform the board of governors now.
Paul S. Hokokian, deputy district attorney for
Fresno County, is a member of the State Bar Board of Governors.