Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Riverside Lawyer James Heiting Elected President of State Bar of California
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Riverside attorney James O. Heiting of Heiting & Irwin has been elected to succeed John Van de Kamp as president of the State Bar of California.
It took only two ballots for the State Bar’s Board of Governors to select Heiting over two opponents in San Francisco on Saturday. San Francisco lawyer Roderick A. McLeod, who campaigned calling for sharp changes in direction for the organization, was eliminated after the first ballot.
Heiting defeated Irvine attorney Joel S. Miliband in a second round of voting.
Under State Bar rules, balloting must continue until one candidate obtains a majority, with the last-place finisher being eliminated after each round. Last year it took five ballots for Van de Kamp to win a four-way race, though two of those were to decide which of two candidates tied for last place should be dropped.
Heiting will take office at the State Bar’s convention in San Diego in September and serve until the 2006 convention.
After the vote he described himself as “a little stunned” by the result.
“I am very grateful and humbled by it,” he added.
Heiting served under Van de Kamp as chair of the board’s influential Planning, Program Development and Budget Committee. Though his opponents also chaired committees, as all third-year members do, only Heiting served without a co-chair.
The president-elect yesterday cited four areas he expects to emphasize during his term of office:
•Outreach to minority and disadvantaged youth to facilitate their entry into the legal profession.
•Working with local bar groups to assure that the State Bar’s initiatives aimed at generating non-dues revenue do not infringe on their traditional areas of activity.
•Stabilizing the State Bar’s assistance program for lawyer’s with substance abuse problems, an area in which Heiting—himself a recovered alcoholic—has long been active.
•Publicizing and increasing the capacity of the State Bar’s ethics hotline.
Former Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sheldon H. Sloan, who will be the senior of the five board members representing Los Angeles County lawyers during Heiting’s term, called Heiting a “terrific leader” who has an “inspiring story to tell.” Sloan noted that Heiting was placed on probation by the State Bar in 1988.
“He successfully rehabilitated himself” from alcohol addiction and from 1991 to 1993 was president of The Other Bar, a network of volunteer lawyers and judges who offer confidential support to lawyers trying to cope with dependency, Sloan pointed out.
“He really pulled himself up by the bootstraps and made a life for himself after that,” Sloan said.
Arrangement With Firm
Heiting said he has worked out an arrangement with the other lawyers in his five-attorney firm which will allow him to be in the office only “one to two days a week” during his tenure as president, devoting the rest of his time to his State Bar duties. The firm specializes in medical malpractice and personal injury litigation.
His plan for encouraging diversity in the profession, he said, will involve developing partnerships with ethnic and minority bar associations to “reach out to disadvantaged students,” providing resources and encouragement “to a point where they believe that they can succeed as lawyers.”
“I have a good feeling that we can make a kind of ground roots campaign for this.”
Another type of outreach will be required, Heiting said, to address concerns of bar associations in the state’s urban centers that the State Bar’s new programs marketing insurance and similar products to attorneys will not cut into their traditional revenue-generating activities.
Heiting said he will appoint a “blue ribbon committee,” which will include Miliband and possibly some former members of the Board of Governors, to study whether those concerns are grounded in fact and to make proposals for dealing with any areas of conflict.
Turning to the issue of the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program, which serves attorney’s with substance abuse problems, Heiting said more resources will have to be devoted to the program. He said he expects the number of lawyers participating to grow to 500 over the next two years—nearly double the current number.
A doubling of the program budget will probably also be necessary, he said.
Heiting said he supports efforts to better publicize the State Bar ethics hotline. But he cautioned that that, too, will come at a price.
More publicity will lead to more calls and require more funding, Heiting said.
“They’re maxed out on what they can do right now,” he declared.
Heiting declined to detail how he will approach the task of assigning committee leadership roles to the five attorney members of the board who will be entering the final year of their terms when he assumes the presidency.
“I have some things rattling around in my mind,” he said.
Last year Van de Kamp broke with precedent by using co-chairs for every committee except PPBD and by naming two non-lawyer “public” members of the board to serve as committee co-chairs. Part of the impetus for that change came from the board’s consolidation of two committees, so that there was no longer a committee for each third-year member to chair.
Heiting said he has “no objection” to that method, but did not say he would necessarily follow it.
He said he would not be considering any possible impact on the presidential aspirations of third-year members in making his recommendations. The full board must approve the committee assignments, though in practice the new president has a free hand in making them.
Nor, Heiting said, does he believe that Van de Kamp was seeking to boost Heiting’s chances of becoming president when he named Heiting to head the PPBD Committee.
Sloan, who will be the only Los Angeles County representative on the board eligible to run for State Bar president next year, said he remains undecided about whether to seek the office. Board rules limit candidacy to members in their final year on the board unless no such member is willing to serve.
Sloan said he has no plans to lobby Heiting for the PPBD assignment or for any other specific leadership role.
“I’m willing to take on whatever he thinks I can do best,” Sloan said.
Sloan, who is also a former president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, called the State Bar presidency “a huge commitment” but said of a possible bid, “I’m not ruling it out.”
Noting that a lawyer member of the board who wins the presidency remains on the board for another year after completing a three-year term, Sloan quipped:
“It’s added to your sentence.”
Board member David Marcus of the Century City law firm Marcus, Watanabe Snyder & Dave said yesterday:
“The choice of Jim is not a surprise.”
Marcus said that though he supported McLeod, he believed “any of the candidates would have made a good president.” Sloan also said that the State Bar was “blessed to have three quality candidates.”
Marcus called Heiting’s support for substance abuse programs for lawyers “legendary,” adding that Heiting “has been incredibly inclusive in terms of soliciting points of view” as leader of the PPDB Committee.
Neither Marcus nor Deputy District Attorney Steven Ipsen, the other current third-year member representing Los Angeles County’s attorneys on the board, chose to run for president. Both were elected to the board as “outsider” candidates, and Marcus yesterday described his election to the board as a “fluke and probably not something that will be repeated in the very near future.”
Marcus and Ipsen defeated candidates backed by the influential Breakfast Club, but Sloan was elected with Breakfast Club support the following year, as were MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann Grace and Deputy Public Defender Marguerite Downing last year.
Marcus noted that though Van de Kamp, a former state attorney general, headed the Regulation, Admissions, and Discipline Oversight Committee before being elected president, his two predecessors — Santa Barbara lawyer James Herman and Fresno attorney Anthony Capozzi — headed the PPDB panel.
“Generally that’s where the presidents come out of,” Marcus said, adding:
“It certainly did not hurt Jim that he was the head of planning and the sole chair.”
“On one level the election is a popularity contest. In the position that Jim held, he was able to have a greater number of members of the Board of Governors know him. That may have given him an edge.”
Heiting, 56, received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Western State University in Fullerton. He has spoken frankly about his experiences with substance abuse.
In July 1986, he blacked out while driving, crashed into another car, and severely injured a 27-year-old woman. His blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit, and he was arrested.
His drinking, he has explained, began in high school, and while there “was a time when it wasn’t a problem,” eventually it “evolved” to the point at which, he has said, “I couldn’t stop.”
After the crash, Heiting spent a month in a treatment program. In June 1987, he went to jail and was placed on five years probation by the State Bar.
But by 1996, he was president of the Riverside County Bar Association.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company