Breakfast Club Backs McNicholas, Fujie For State Bar Board of Governors
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Choosing among five hopefuls, the Breakfast Club voted yesterday to support John P. McNicholas and Holly J. Fujie to fill two District 7 seats on the State Bar Board of Governors.
Breakfast Club Chair Victor Santochi, a Westlake Village insurance firm attorney, declined to reveal vote totals, but said about 60 paid-up club members cast ballots after hearing the five speak at an early morning meeting at the downtown Omni Los Angeles Hotel.
Recruiting candidates for the Board of Governors is the primary function of the club, which for many years exercised a near-monopoly over the process. But self-described “outsider” candidates defeated three of the Breakfast Club’s choices in 2001 and 2002.
The club’s candidates reasserted their dominance the past two years, and Santochi told the club’s members the group is “back and kicking.”
McNicholas, 68, is a civil litigator whose West Los Angeles firm, McNicholas & McNicholas, also includes his daughter and two sons. He served on the State Bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission from 1999 to 2002 and from 1989 to 1992 was a lawyer representative appointed by federal judges to serve on the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference.
‘Rule of Law’
He described himself to the club members as a consensus-builder who would work to “bring the rule of law” to underserved segments of the state’s population and to improve the public image of the profession.
“Our image as lawyers is horrible,” McNicholas said, contrasting the current situation with the respect he said attorneys enjoyed when he entered the profession a little over 40 years ago.
“How do we get our respect back?” he continued. “I think we start with ourselves.”
Fujie, 49, is a partner with the downtown office of Buchalter Nemer Fields & Younger, where her litigation practice emphasizes class actions, fraud, insurance coverage and bad faith suits. She is a member of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles governing board and chairs WLALA’s Attorney Mentoring Committee.
She also serves on the boards of Bet Tzedek and the Los Angeles chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and has been among Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s federal judicial selection advisors since Feinstein was elected in 1982. Her husband is also an attorney.
She currently serves as an attorney member of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference.
Fujie told the group that equal access to justice would be a major priority for her if elected to the Board of Governors, and suggested that the State Bar send out a “regular monthly email” to presidents of local and specialty bars soliciting input and reporting progress on issues identified.
She said she has spent her career fighting the “stereotype of a quiet and unassuming Japanese American lawyer.”
In voting to back McNicholas and Fujie, the Breakfast Club passed over the candidacy of Girardi & Keese partner Howard B. Miller, who was the Los Angeles Unified School District board’s president from 1977 to 1979 and the school district’s chief operating officer in 1999 and 2000. Miller said yesterday he will decide “in the next few days” whether to mount a campaign without club backing.
Miller, who was introduced at the meeting by former State Bar President Alan Rothenberg, told the club members that the practice of law has increasingly “become federalized” and urged the bar to pay more attention to the “question of external relations—representing the entire profession to the outside world.”
Miller taught at USC Law School from 1965 to 1977, and was a full professor during his last eight years there.
“I have managed to do just about everything you can do in the field of law,” he said at the meeting.
Also denied club backing were two candidates who have already run multiple unsuccessful campaigns for the board: Sherman Oaks transactional and trial attorney Phillip Feldman, a legal malpractice and bar discipline specialist, and Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Frank M. Tavelman.
Tavelman finished third in a field of seven candidates in 2003, while Feldman finished fourth, 60 votes behind him. Last year Feldman came in second in a four-way race, with Tavelman finishing third.
Feldman got more almost 450 more votes than Tavelman last year, though he finished nearly a thousand votes behind the winner, Los Angeles Deputy Public Defender Marguerite Downing.
Tavelman was introduced at the Breakfast Club gathering by Deputy District Attorney Steven J. Ipsen, one of the two current District 7 board member whose replacements will be chosen this year. District 7 consists of Los Angeles County.
Ipsen and attorney David M. Marcus of Marcus, Watanabe, Snyder & Dave in Century City defeated Breakfast Club candidates in 2002. He told the membership that he had never heard of the Breakfast Club when he ran for the board, but said he has since become a member and supporter.
Tavelman’s selection, Ipsen said, would ensure continued representation of the viewpoint of criminal prosecutors on the board.
But Tavelman told the members he would support the club’s choices, and after the results of the balloting were announced he told the MetNews he will not be a candidate this year.
Feldman said he will run for the seat being vacated by Ipsen.
“I would have enjoyed having their endorsement, but I’ll run without it,” he said yesterday, adding that he feels his “name recognition has gone up a bit” since his 2003 campaign.
Feldman was the only candidate not introduced by a club member at the meeting. Candidates were asked to limit their presentations to five minutes, and Feldman had exceeded that limit when Santochi—prompted by Board of Governors member and former club chair Jo-Ann W. Grace—asked him to wrap up.
His remarks focused on the State Bar’s discipline system, which he said could be made more cost effective and should not be allowed to become a place to “warehouse bad apples” in the legal profession.
McNicholas was introduced at the meeting by Tom Stolpman, also a former president of the State Bar, while Fujie was introduced by former Los Angeles County Bar Association President David Pasternak.
Grace, who is co-publisher of the MetNews, said she expects Fujie to run for Ipsen’s seat and McNicholas to seek the seat being vacated by Marcus. Fujie said no final decision has been reached about which candidate will seek which seat, but she and McNicholas both said they will run as a team and will not file for the same seat.
Fujie earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her law degree from Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. McNicholas has a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and earned his law degree at Loyola Law School.
Candidates have until April 1 to file candidacy papers with the State Bar. Balloting is conducted by mail during May and June—all active lawyers in Los Angeles County can vote—and the votes are counted in mid-July.
In addition to the two District 7 seats, single seats are to be filled in District 4, which consists of Marin and San Francisco counties; District 6, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties; and District 8, which consists of Orange County.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company