Tuesday, March 30, 2004
State Bar Board Delays Taking Stand on Measure to Bar Fee for Processing Credit Card Payments
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar Board of Governors has put off taking a position on a bill that would bar public agencies—including the bar—from charging a fee for accepting payments by credit card.
Meeting in Los Angeles on Saturday, the board voted 15-4 to study SB 1801 further before deciding whether to support or oppose it.
Los Angeles County representative Matt Cavanaugh, who chairs the board’s Member Oversight Committee, objected to a recommendation from the board’s Stakeholder Relations Committee to oppose the measure, authored by Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach. He noted that the bar’s current practice of charging a $9.50 fee to members who pay their dues by credit card has sparked numerous angry protests.
The bill would add Sec. 6167 to the Government Code, providing that “no state or
local agency that accepts a credit card or debit card as payment for any service or obligation shall impose any processing fee or charge for the use of that card that is not also imposed upon persons who pay for the same service or obligation by cash or check.”
It would amend other code sections which specifically authorize such fees, including Business and Professions Code Sec. 6140, which authorizes the State Bar to charge dues to practicing lawyers.
Cavanaugh urged his colleagues to support the measure. But Sheldon Sloan, who also represents Los Angeles County, put the cost associated with processing credit card dues payments at $9.63 per member and estimated that eliminating the fee would cost the bar $2 million if all of its members paid by credit card.
Sloan said many private companies forgo collecting a fee for credit card transactions in an effort get or keep customers, but he questioned whether that rationale applied to the State Bar.
“I don’t think we’re in danger of losing our market,” Sloan declared.
Windie O. Scott, who chairs the Stakeholder Relations Committee, said some committee members were concerned that permitting credit card payment without charging members for the processing costs might amount to an illegal gift of public funds.
Sloan suggested that the board table the matter and request staff to look into that issue and to investigate whether there are savings associated with credit card payment that could offset the costs.
Los Angeles County representatives John Van de Kamp and David M. Marcus joined Cavanaugh and Rod McLeod of San Francisco in voting against the motion. Sloan and the board’s fifth Los Angeles County representative, Steven Ipsen, voted in favor of it.
In other action at the Saturday meeting:
•The board voted 13-2, with four abstentions, to oppose AB 2713 unless it is amended to address State Bar concerns. The measure, introduced by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Woodland Hills, would create an exception to current attorney-client confidentiality provisions to permit attorneys who represent governmental organizations to report improper governmental activity.
Cavenaugh urged the board to override the recommendation of Scott’s committee and support the measure, but drew only Ipsen’s vote in favor of his motion. Several government lawyers on the board—though not Ipsen, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney—abstained, apparently because the legislation would cover them.
The State Bar has objected to a “futility” provision in the proposed legislation that would under some circumstances permit an attorney to report the alleged wrongdoing to law enforcement or regulatory officials without first referring the matter to higher authorities in his or her own agency if the lawyer “reasonably believes” it would be futile to do so.
•The board listened to, but did not act on, a plea from member Anthony Paul Diaz, the representative of the California Young Lawyers Association, for support for proposed legislation that would extend the term of the representative from one year to three. Both the lawyer members of the State Bar Board of Governors, who are elected by the attorneys in their districts, and the appointed non-lawyer members serve three-year terms.
The board’s Committee on Board Operations had opposed the proposal, with President Anthony Capozzi breaking a tie committee vote. Diaz said a one-year term is not enough for a representative to become familiar with the board’s procedures and the issues facing it.
Van de Kamp urged his colleagues to support the proposal, saying the length of the term should be up to the CYLA and adding that it “does not make a lot of sense” for a single board member’s term to be different.
But Joel S. Miliband of Irvine noted that the CYLA’s board can reappoint the same representative if it wishes to, and said the State Bar board would “lose out” if it did not get the opportunity to interact with different delegates from the young lawyers’ group.
“It seems to me it’s working pretty well right now,” Miliband commented.
•Executive Director Judy Johnson and Capozzi officially announced that four third-year members of the board will be candidates for State Bar president. The four—whose candidacies had previously been reported—are Van de Kamp, a former state attorney general; Scott, a state deputy controller; Redwood City attorney Vivian Kral; and Russell Roeca of the San Francisco firm Roeca, Haas, Hager.
Capozzi set a special meeting for May 22 in San Francisco—the date of the board’s next regular meeting—for the election.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company