Friday, July 16, 2004
Downing, Grace Win Election to State Bar Board of Governors
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Deputy Public Defender Marguerite Downing and MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann Grace have been elected to the State Bar Board of Governors, bar officials reported yesterday.
The two women, both backed by the influential Breakfast Club, won in separate balloting for two District 7 seats. District 7 consists of Los Angeles County.
Downing polled nearly a thousand votes more than her closest competitor in a four-way race, while Grace won a two-way contest by slightly more than 500 votes. Grace’s victory marked the first time a Breakfast Club candidate has won a one-on-one battle in a contested race since self-styled “outsider” Matt Cavanaugh successfully bucked the group three years ago, after decades in which the club’s candidates dominated the voting.
Two Cavanaugh-backed candidates were elected in close races against Breakfast Club choices the following year. Last year former Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sheldon Sloan won easily with Breakfast Club support, but opposition to Sloan was divided among six opponents.
This year’s election had raised the specter of a board on which all the members elected by attorneys to represent geographical district’s might be men. Outgoing State Bar President Anthony Capozzi, among others, had urged support for Downing and Grace partly to avoid that outcome.
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.
In addition to Downing and Grace, however, a third female candidate—Ruthe Ashley, director of Career Services at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento—won election in District 2.
All four of the losing candidates in District 7 had also run against Sloan, and two of them said yesterday they will probably run again next year.
Downing received 2,748 of the 6,678 votes cast for the four candidates in her race. Sherman Oaks transactional and trial attorney Phillip Feldman got 1,751 votes, Deputy District Attorney Frank Tavelman 1,306 votes, and Los Angeles sole practitioner Joseph Lewis 873 votes.
Grace polled 3,563 of the 6,612 votes cast in her race, while Northridge sole practitioner and businessman James A. Otto received 3,049 votes.
Local Turnout Drops
The District 7 turnout was slightly lower than last year, when 6,693 votes were cast, and represented a little under 15 percent of the approximately 45,000 Los Angeles County lawyers eligible to vote.
In other districts the turnout was marginally higher than in Los Angeles County.
Ashley got 1,074 votes to 900 for Paul A. Kramer Jr., senior staff counsel with the California Energy Commission in Sacramento, in District 2, which includes Sacramento and neighboring counties. The turnout was over 19 percent.
In District 3, James A. Scharf of MacMorris & Carbone in San Jose got 2,086 votes to 1,157 for Emeryville labor and employment law practitioner Mike Schmier on a turnout of just under 16 percent. The district includes four East Bay counties.
In District 4, which consists of San Francisco and Marin Counties, Jeffrey Bleich of the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson received 2,212 votes to 776 for First American Title Insurance Co. attorney Dena Cruz. The turnout there was just under 18 percent.
Bleich is a former president of the Bar Association of San Francisco.
Grace called the results “good news” for the Breakfast Club, adding that the outcome of the voting indicates the group is “getting its message out that it is not an exclusive insider organization.” She noted the statewide turnout of about 17 percent was slightly up from last year, when it was about 15 percent.
Improving turnout, Grace said, would probably require changing the way attorneys view the State Bar.
In a statement, Grace thanked attorneys who “sent numerous e-mails in support of my candidacy” and the bar groups that endorsed her.
“I hope to make a difference on the Board of Governors and prove their labors went to a good end,” she said.
Otto offered congratulations to Grace on her victory. He said that while the campaign had been “fun,” he had “no idea” whether he would mount a third consecutive bid for a seat on the board next year.
Glendale attorney Matthew D. M. Rifat, who filed papers to run for the seat won by Grace but dropped out and endorsed Otto, said when he withdrew that he planned to run next year and to seek Breakfast Club support. Two seats will be up for election in 2005.
Downing described herself as “very tickled,” adding she plans to “work very hard to represent” the county’s lawyers. Though she polled just over 41 percent of the votes in her race, Downing said she was pleased with her 997-vote margin of victory.
“I figure that’s pretty good,” she said.
She and Grace “were a good team,” Downing said. “Now the work’s ahead of us.”
She noted she will also be sworn in Oct. 7 as president of California Women Lawyers. The new State Bar board members will take office at the bar’s annual convention in Monterey Oct. 7-10.
The bar, Downing said, needs to “do something about the fact that so few people vote.” She suggested that permitting electronic voting might boost turnout.
Feldman and Lewis both said they will probably run again next year.
Feldman noted that his vote total more than doubled from last year, and he finished second rather than fourth.
“If I were the Breakfast Club I would hang my head in shame,” he commented, noting that the election marks the fourth year in a row that a club-backed candidate has failed to win a majority of the votes cast. The group, he said, should either adopt a “goal orientation or quietly fold their tent and encourage their members to vote their conscience.”
Lewis, who is 94, said he was at a disadvantage in the contest.
“Most of my voters are deceased,” he said. He said he has a letter from former Gov. Pat Brown in which Brown mentions voting for Lewis in an earlier Board of Governors contest.
Lewis said his candidacy was a part of his effort to eliminate world poverty, and vowed to reprise it next year.
“That is my mission in life,” Lewis declared, noting that he has written a book explaining his plan to save government $1 billion a day and cut taxes by one-third, as well as end poverty.
Tavelman could not be reached yesterday.
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.
She is also a former Breakfast Club chairperson.
Downing 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.
Voting for State Bar Board of Governors was conducted by mail during May and June, with the ballots canvassed this week.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company