Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, April 2, 2004


Page 1


Two District 7 State Bar Board Seats Each Draws Three Hopefuls


By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer


Three lawyers filed to run for each of two State Bar Board of Governors seats representing Los Angeles County by yesterday’s deadline, but a State Bar spokesman said additional nominating petitions might have been received but not yet processed.

Spokesman E.J. Bernacki said the bar will not complete the processing of petitions received by the 5 p.m. deadline until today.

Bernacki confirmed that Deputy Public Defender Marguerite D. Downing, Sherman Oaks attorney Phillip Feldman, and Los Angeles lawyer Joseph Lewis have filed to run for the seat currently occupied by former Attorney General John Van de Kamp.

MetNews co-publisher Jo-Ann W. Grace, Northridge attorney James A. Otto, and Glendale lawyer Matthew Rifat have filed to run for the seat being vacated by Matthew Cavanaugh, he said. Cavanaugh will leave the board in October after completing his three-year term.

Van de Kamp will also leave the board unless he chosen State Bar president by his colleagues. He is one of four board members running for that post.

Voting is by district, with ballots being mailed out to members April 30 and due back June 30. Los Angeles County is District 7.

Ballots are to be canvassed July 12-15. Bernacki cautioned that verification of the signatures on nominating petitions has not yet been completed.

Other Districts

The other seats open are in Districts 2, 3 and 4.

Fair Oaks lawyer Ruthe C. Ashley and Sacramento attorney Paul Kramer have filed to run in District 2, which eight other Northern California counties.  San Jose attorney James A. Scharf and Emeryville lawyer Michael Schmier are running in District 3, which consists of Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

In District 4, which consists of San Francisco and Marin counties, San Francisco lawyer Dena Cruz and former Bar Association of San Francisco President Jeffrey Bleich  have filed petitions, Bernacki said.

Grace and Downing last week won the backing of the influential Breakfast Club, which for the last three decades hand-picked candidates to represent District 7, and until 2001 either persuaded would-be challengers not to run, or backed their own selections so massively that they almost always prevailed. After two years in which insurgent candidates defeated three of the four Breakfast Club choices, the group’s candidate—former Municipal Court Judge Sheldon Sloan—easily won last year’s race.

Both are Breakfast Club members and Grace served as the group’s leader last year.

Breakfast Club Effort

The group’s current chair, Patrick Kelly of the downtown firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, said the Breakfast Club will “aggressively and enthusiastically” back the two with mailings, print advertising and possibly by organizing campaign events.

“I personally am very pleased with the quality and strength and commitment of the two candidates that we’ve nominated,” Kelly declared.

He noted that Grace’s name was placed in nomination at the Breakfast Club meeting by Tom Stolpman, while Downing was nominated by Karen Nobumuto. Both are former State Bar presidents.

Grace is a former member of the State Bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission and also serves as this newspaper’s general counsel. She is treasurer of the State Bar Foundation, the bar’s charitable arm, and a former president of the Italian American Lawyers Association.

Downing, who is also president-elect of California Women Lawyers, has been a deputy public defender for 15 years. In 1995-96 she was president of Black Women Lawyers and in 1998-99 she was president of the California Association of Black Lawyers.

Otto, a Northridge lawyer admitted to the State Bar in 1989, finished second to Sloan last year with 1,102 votes to Sloan’s 2,100. He is not James D. Otto, a former member of the Board of Governors who is now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

Feldman, who polled 853 votes to finish fourth last year to Sloan, will be making his third run for the board. His first bid for the post came some 30 years ago. He is a former State Bar volunteer prosecutor who now defends lawyers in State Bar Court.

Lewis also ran last year, receiving 460 votes and finishing last. He is 94 and has been a member of the State Bar for 71 years.

Rifat said this will be his first run for the board. He is a member of the State Bar Committee on Administration of Justice and managing partner of Forge & Rifat, a 13-person defense firm in Glendale.

Rifat said he lives in Orange County and has been active in the Orange County Bar Association. The State Bar Web site yesterday listed his district as District 8—Orange County—but Rifat said that because he practices in Los Angeles County he qualifies to run in District 7.

Bernacki confirmed that interpretation of the eligibility rules, and said Rifat changed his address in State Bar records yesterday. The updated address should appear on the Web site today, he said.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company