Breakfast Club Backs Howard Miller for Seat on State Bar Board of Governors
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Girardi & Keese partner Howard B. Miller won the backing of the influential Breakfast Club for a seat on the State Bar Board of Governors Friday.
The nomination of Miller, 68, was endorsed by the group at a sparsely attended early morning meeting in downtown Los Angeles over bids from two other hopefuls who have previously run for the position. A fourth candidate, James H. Aguirre of Richardson, Bambrick, Cermak & Fair, had been expected to run but told the group he had decided the “timing isn’t quite right” for him to seek a board seat this year.
Miller, who has been with his current firm since 2002, taught at USC’s law school from 1965 until 1977, as a full professor for the last eight of those years. He was a controversial member and president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board in the late 1970s, serving as its president until 1979, when he became to object of a successful recall campaign.
He told an audience of about 25 club members that if elected to the board he will work to oppose the “federalization” of the legal profession.
“The attorney-client privilege as we have known it is under attack,” Miller said, citing disclosure requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and efforts by the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to link waivers of the privilege to favorable treatment at sentencing in criminal cases.
Recent revisions to bankruptcy law, Miller warned, could also result in attorneys who advise clients with assets under $150,000 about business decisions being classified as “debt relief agencies” and made subject to disclosure requirements that would conflict with the duty of confidentiality as construed in California. There have been conflicting district court rulings on the issue, he said.
He said the developments are part of a trend which could “turn attorneys into some kind of auditors like accountants,” creating for lawyers an “obligation to speak against their own clients in many cases.”
Miller contended that the legal profession in the state has so far failed to react in a coordinated way to this threat, instead viewing it as largely a problem for those who specialize in specific types of federal practice.
“The entire profession has lost its cohesiveness under the threat to our basic role,” Miller said, adding that the state’s lawyers need to understand that “we’re all in this together.”
“That’s one of the major roles that the State Bar and the Board of Governors can play.”
Access to Justice
Miller said he will also be committed, if elected, to improving access to justice. In the late 1960s, he recalled, he was instrumental USC’s decision to adopt one of first affirmative action programs at a law school, and reminded the audience that many legal groups opposed early efforts to expand legal services for the poor such as California Rural Legal Assistance, an organization he once represented.
Diversity in the profession, Miller said, is needed “not just for the sake of justice for individuals but for the sake of obtaining the fullest amount of talent for” law firms and other entities in the legal community.
Miller earned his undergraduate degree at Pepperdine and his law degree at the University of Chicago, and clerked for California Supreme Court Justice Roger Traynor and 1960 and 1961.
He was executive editor of the Los Angeles Daily Journal in from 1979 to 1981.
Recruiting candidates for the Board of Governors is the primary function of the Breakfast Club, which has recently re-asserted a near-monopoly over the process after two years in which self-described “outsider” candidates defeated three of the club’s choices.
All of the current board members representing District 7, which consists of Los Angeles County, were elected with Breakfast Club backing, as was the State Bar’s immediate past president, former State Attorney General John Van de Kamp, who attended Friday’s meeting.
District 7 has five seats on the 23-member board. Attorney members are elected to three-year terms in mail balloting conducted in May and June.
The attorney elected this year will replace former Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sheldon Sloan as a District 7 representative on the board, though Sloan could remain on the board for another year if the board selects him in June, over two of his colleagues, to serve as the organization’s president.
Miller sought the Breakfast Club’s endorsement last year, when he was introduced at the club’s meeting by former State Bar President Alan Rothenberg, but withdrew from the race when the club instead gave its support to John P. McNicholas and Holly J. Fujie, both of whom were elected.
This year he was introduced by another former State Bar president, Long Beach attorney Thomas Stolpman. Miller had previously told the MetNews he planned to follow through with his candidacy this year whether or not he received Breakfast Club support.
Aguirre, the president of the Mexican American Bar Association’s Political Action Committee, spoke only briefly at the meeting to withdraw his candidacy, but said he will run next year and seek the club’s support. Aguirre served last year as the chair of the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations during its meeting in San Diego, held in September in conjunction with the State Bar convention.
He told the MetNews after the meeting that he had decided other obligations, including a final year of service on the CDCBA board, would preclude him from seeking a Board of Governors seat this year.
Also speaking only briefly was Sherman Oaks transactional and trial attorney Phillip Feldman, a legal malpractice and bar discipline specialist who has ran for the office the last three years. Feldman finished fourth in a field of seven candidates in 2003, second in a four-way race in 2004, and last year finished second to Fujie in another four-way contest, getting almost 2,000 votes but about 1,500 fewer votes than Fujie.
Last year Feldman’s remarks centered on the flaws he sees in the State Bar discipline system, but this year he struck a different note, urging a “marriage between the law schools and the State Bar” under which training of lawyers would “follow the medical model,” including internships and rotations into different practice areas.
Century City sole practitioner Marty O’Toole, who last year finished third behind Fujie with just over 1,000 votes, did talk about the discipline system, claiming it is “inverted in a very important way” because lawyers are more likely to be investigated and disciplined for misconduct in their private lives than for questionable behavior during litigation.
The State Bar, O’Toole contended, rarely investigates complaints about misconduct in litigation unless a judge has issued sanctions ñ which, he said, judges are reluctant to impose and for which opposing attorneys often consider it tactically disadvantageous to ask.
Those issues were the focus of O’Toole’s campaign last year, though he did not then seek Breakfast Club support for his bid.
Club Chair Victor Santochi, an attorney with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, declined after the meeting to disclose the vote totals, but characterized the support to Miller as “strong.”
Nominating petitions for State Bar Board of Governors are due April 1. Single seats in each of five districts across the state are up for vote.
State Bar officials said only two completed petitions have so far been received. San Diego City Attorney Michael J. Aguirre is running in District 9 and San Ramon lawyer Richard Frankel has filed his petition for the District 3 seat.
Aguirre unsuccessfully sought the support of the Board of Governors at its meeting in Los Angeles this month for AB 1612, a measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Woodland Hills, which would create an exception to an attorney’s duty of confidentiality for public lawyers faced with official misconduct.
Aguirre argued that that misconduct by San Diego officials which left the city’s finances in disarray would have come to light sooner had such an exception been in place. Similar legislation has been vetoed by two governors, but Aguirre told the board he expects it to be enacted into law this year.
The board voted 12-5 to oppose the measure.
Frankel practices business and employment law with Frankel & Goldware in the Contra Costa County community of San Ramon.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company