Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Ballots Due Today in Contests for State Bar Board
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Mail balloting for two Los Angeles County seats on the State Bar Board of Governors ends today, with over 45,000 attorneys eligible to vote but far fewer expected to do so.
Just under 6,700 lawyers voted last year when former Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sheldon Sloan outpolled six opponents to win a seat on the board representing District 7, which consists of Los Angeles County.
Four lawyers who finished behind Sloan in that election have reprised their candidacies this year, but Sloan—with the backing of the Breakfast Club, which for years hand-picked District 7’s board members—had more double the votes of his nearest competitor then.
This year two first-time candidates have the club’s support. Both are women, and both Sloan and outgoing State Bar President Anthony P. Capozzi have cited their gender in calling for their election.
The board’s only two female elected members—Redwood City attorney Vivian Kral and state Deputy Controller for Policy Windie O. Scott—will leave office when their terms end in October, though the board also has three female public members appointed by state elected officials.
MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann Grace has club backing for one of the two District 7 seats, and is opposed by James A. Otto, a Northridge sole practitioner and businessman. Otto finished a distant second to Sloan last year.
The other Breakfast Club candidate, Deputy Public Defender Marguerite Downing, is opposed by Deputy District Attorney Frank Tavelman, Sherman Oaks transactional and trial attorney Phillip Feldman, and Los Angeles sole practitioner Joseph Lewis. Tavelman and Feldman finished third and fourth in last year’s balloting, while Lewis came in last.
There are also female candidates in two of the three other districts in which board seats are up for election this year. Each has one male opponent, as many as four of the elected board members for the year beginning in October could be women.
The 23-member board includes 15 members elected from geographical districts.
In District 2, which includes Sacramento, Ruthe Ashley—who is director of Career Services at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento—is pitted against Paul A. Kramer Jr., senior staff counsel with the California Energy Commission in Sacramento. In District 4, which includes San Francisco, First American Title Insurance Co. attorney Dena Cruz is opposed by Jeffrey Bleich of the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson.
Two men are competing in District 3, which includes Oakland. They are James A. Scharf of MacMorris & Carbone in San Jose and Mike Schmier of Emeryville, a labor and employment law practitioner.
Grace and Downing expressed cautious optimism yesterday about their chances.
“I’m fairly confident,” Downing said. “You never want to have a big head about this stuff.”
She added that she did not send out a mailing to those who voted last year—as both Grace and Otto did—but conducted a campaign largely based on personal contacts through local bar groups. She is the president-elect of California Women Lawyers and a former president of both Black Women Lawyers and the California Association of Black Lawyers.
She noted that ads run by Feldman during the campaign criticized her for seeking to add a bar board membership to the role she will take on with CWL. But Downing said expects, if elected, to be able to handle the duties of both positions as well as her job.
“I will have some tough weeks, but I multi-task like nobody’s business,” she declared.
Grace pointed out that historically men have “tended to win” in one-on-one contests with a female board candidate, but added:
“I hope I can buck the trend.”
While she did send a mailing to about 6,300 lawyers, Grace said, she also relied largely on appearances before local bar groups to build interest in the campaign.
“I’m hopeful that the opportunity to meet a candidate will spur people to decide to become involved in the election process,” she commented.
The candidacies of both Grace and Downing were also touted in numerous advertisements in this newspaper.
Otto said he enjoyed campaigning and “met a lot of people,” but explained he did not attend a large number of local bar functions. He mailed flyers to “just over 6,000” lawyers, he said.
While Otto, Grace and Downing all spoke positively about the experience of running for the board, Feldman—a third-time candidate who placed several newspaper ads—called the process “absolutely boring.”
“It was similar to all the prior campaigns,” he said, predicting that less than 15 percent of the eligible lawyers will bother to cast ballot and suggesting that radical measures are needed to foster interest in the process.
A “two-party system” in which some other organization would emerge as a rival to the Breakfast Club would be one solution, Feldman said. Another would be to permit candidates to distribute ballots to potential voters, he said.
Most lawyers discard the ballots they receive in the mail from the State Bar, Feldman asserted, suggesting that a process allowing them to vote a duplicate ballot received from a candidate, accompanied by an affidavit that the original ballot had been lost, could boost interest and vote totals.
Neither Tavelman nor Lewis could be reached for comment yesterday.
District 7 member David M. Marcus of the Century City law firm Marcus, Watanabe Snyder & Dave said yesterday that while he suspects Downing will win easily, the contest between Grace and Otto will be a “very crucial race for the future of the Breakfast Club.”
Marcus and Deputy District Attorney Steven J. Ipsen defeated Breakfast Club candidates in 2002, building on Matt Cavenaugh’s “outsider” victory the year before. Sloan’s victory last year, Marcus suggested, may indicate only that the club retains influence when the opposition vote is splintered among several candidates.
Sloan got less than one-third of the total votes cast.
Marcus said Downing, Tavelman, Grace and Otto would all be welcome additions to the board, but said his favorite feature of the campaign was that it put Grace in the position of placing ads in a rival legal publication.
“I love seeing Jo-Ann Grace pay money to her competitor to run ads,” he said.
State Bar President-Elect John Van de Kamp, whose current seat on the board as a District 7 representative will be taken by Downing, Feldman, Lewis or Tavelman, said yesterday he has seen few signs of lawyer interest in selecting new board members.
“It’s a very low visibility kind of situation,” Van de Kamp said, adding that he hopes at least “some women get elected” to the board over which he will preside.
Ballots must be postmarked by today—and received by July 12, when a three-day tallying process begins—in order to be counted. Though board rules authorize implementation of electronic voting, a bar spokesperson said procedures to allow it have yet to be developed.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company