Tuesday, May 8, 2007
State Bar Governors Ashley, Bleich, Downing to Vie for Presidency
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
State Bar Board of Governors members Ruthe Catolico Ashley, Jeffrey L. Bleich and Marguerite D. Downing told the MetNews yesterday they will be seeking election in July as the organization’s 2007-2008 president.
The three, whose declarations of candidacy are due today, will not be joined by James A. Scharf and MetNews co-publisher Jo-Ann Grace, the only other attorney members eligible to run. Both yesterday confirmed that they will not be candidates.
Scharf, who works for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Jose, said he chose to stay out of the race because he felt the need to focus on his job. With regard to the remaining governors eligible for presidency, he noted they “all are qualified” and enjoyable to work with.
Grace said she was not running because she felt Bleich was “the obvious choice,” and because her concept of the role of president did not coincide with that of State Bar staff.
She remarked that Bleich, who currently chairs the board’s planning committee, has “demonstrated unique skill and abilities to work with a staff that thinks it is fully in charge.”
On her second reason for declining to run, Grace said:
“[I]t is clear that the staff perceives the president of the State Bar as being akin to the chairperson of the board of a corporation and fancies the executive director to be the de facto president….The office of executive director has become too entrenched, too powerful, and, frankly, too arrogant.”
Duties, responsibilities and powers need to be “clearly delineated,” she maintained, with the executive director acting as a general manager subordinate to the board and president.
Downing, who noted she has a good relationship with the State Bar staff, said she chose to run for president in part because of her experience.
“I think I’m the most qualified,” the 48-year-old Los Angeles County deputy public defender said.
A past president of the California Association of Black Lawyers, California Women Lawyers, and Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, Downing said her leadership roles in those bar associations have given her “an understanding of what the rank and file lawyers are looking for.”
Her service on the Board of Governors has also given her a good understanding of how the State Bar works, she added. Downing’s experience on the board includes co-chairing the State Bar’s former Ethnic Minority Relations Committee, which was recently folded into the organization’s Diversity Task Force.
The attorney, who has served as the California Young Lawyers Association’s board liaison for the last two years, noted she is “one of probably only a few board members who actually fulfill the board liaison responsibilities.”
One of the issues she would focus on as president, if elected, is how to secure the future of the bar, she said, commenting:
“I think we need to rethink how we involve our new lawyers, and at the same time figure out how to get a second season of service out of our senior lawyers, because they have a wealth of information and—we lose them when they leave and they don’t continue to be involved in the bar—there’s something that we need to be doing to get them to stay active.”
Downing has been with the Public Defender’s Office for nearly 18 years and was admitted to the State Bar in 1989.
Ashley, also a 1989 admittee, said she saw the position of bar president as “a chance to have a year of service to give back to the legal profession and to the people of California.”
“I see the bar president as being the person who’s got a bully pulpit for one year to be able to take the message of what lawyers, who lawyers are, and how lawyers contribute to the community and to the society as a whole in ways that are very, very positive.”
Remarking on the experience she would bring to the presidency, Ashley, 59, said she has “been around for a long time” and therefore has “had the pleasure and the opportunity of being involved in a lot of things.”
For example, she was appointed by former State Bar president Jim Heiting to chair the Diversity Pipeline Task Force, which has been working with lawyers, educators, deans, professors, and the judiciary in a project that seeks to facilitate the formation of diversity pipeline programs.
With 14 years’ experience as a trial attorney, she is currently diversity officer for the External Affairs Office of CalPERS, and was previous assistant dean for career and professional development at the McGeorge School of Law.
If elected, Ashley said, she would focus on the issues of diversity, both in the bar and in the judiciary, and work to ensure that the work of the diversity pipeline task force becomes “truly a part and parcel of the fabric of the California bar.”
Additionally, she said, she would seek to encourage volunteerism by attorneys.
Ashley added that all of the vice presidents were very qualified to be president:
“Each of us has great experience and each of us has done really good things. If any of us win, I think the bar might be well-served.”
Bleich, a litigation partner in the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson, declined to comment in detail about his candidacy, saying his understanding of the rules barred him from “campaigning or electioneering” until tomorrow.
The 46-year-old lawyer’s bar leadership experience includes serving as 2003 president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and co-chair of the Lawyer Representatives to the Northern District of California Judicial Conference in 2004.
Bleich was also admitted to the State Bar in 1989.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company