Monday, July 23, 2007
San Francisco Litigator Jeffrey L. Bleich Elected State Bar President
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Litigator Jeffrey Bleich, a partner in Munger, Tolles & Olson’s San Francisco office, has been elected to succeed Sheldon H. Sloan as president of the State Bar of California.
At a Board of Governors meeting held Friday, Bleich won on the first ballot over vice presidents Ruthe Catolico Ashley and Marguerite D. Downing, who had also sought to lead the 210,000-member organization in 2007-2008.
Also at Friday’s meeting, the board voted to approve the California Attorney Civility Guidelines, which were born out of Sloan’s desire to help reduce what he said was a decline in civil behavior in the practice. Individual lawyers will be encouraged to sign a voluntary pledge to follow the guidelines and “abstain from rude, disruptive, disrespectful and abuse behavior and will act with dignity, decency, courtesy and candor with opposing counsel, the courts and the public.”
Bleich, 46, is the first lawyer from his firm to win State Bar presidency, and the first president to hail from Northern California since Palmer Madden, who held the post in 2000-2001. He is set to be sworn in on Sept. 29 at the State Bar’s annual meeting in Anaheim.
Following his election, Bleich said the first item on his to-do list between now and September is to start reaching out to key stakeholders, including State Bar section leaders, local bar associations, those in Sacramento with an interest in the organization’s activities, and judges involved in the Judicial Council of California. He also said he planned to visit all nine State Bar districts during his term.
“This is hard work, remarked. “It’s one year and it’s a hard sprint.”
As president, he said, his primary goal is to help the organization regain the trust of its members, who collectively “still carry some of the scars” resulting from a 1997 dues bill veto by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, and a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision—Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1—that prohibited the organization from using mandatory bar dues on anything other than regulating lawyers and improving the administration of justice. In addition, he said, he hopes for a regaining of trust between State Bar staff and the board.
“That’s what I think, at the end of the day, is the most important thing a president can do,” the lawyer commented. “It’s only one year. You can push the initiatives that already exist, you can be an ambassador for the bar, but mostly you need to demonstrate by how you conduct yourself and the work that you do that we deserve all the trust that the public gives us.”
As part of his job, Bleich said, he will work to achieve improved relations with the Legislature so the State Bar can ultimately secure the funding to maintain the organization, and implement much-needed improvements in areas such as technology.
“There are a lot of people who are competing for those resources,” he noted.
Bleich has previously worked with the Assembly, Senate and Governor’s Office as a member of the Bench-Bar coalition, the California State University Governmental Relations Committee, and the Judicial Council. Having worked closely with legislators before, he said, he has the experience necessary to garner understanding and support from Sacramento.
Among other aims, Bleich said he hopes to achieve increased involvement by younger attorneys and help develop a pipeline program that will help increase diversity in the profession.
On the latter point, he said that though he may not be the “face” of diversity—as compared to Ashley and Downing, both women of color—he has been “a very strong voice of diversity, probably one of the strongest in the legal profession.”
Among other things, he noted, he was the attorney who fought all the way to the state Supreme Court in litigation challenging Proposition 209. He was also actively involved in so-called pipeline efforts by the Bar Association of San Francisco, including chairing its minority scholarship committee and helping reaching out to underrepresented high school students through the bar’s “law academy” program.
“I think that most people understand that it’s not your race or gender…but it’s how sincere and genuine your commitment is to this issue,” he said, adding the State Bar recognized his efforts several years ago by giving him its diversity award.
Bleich, who has been with Munger Tolles since 1992, specializes in complex business litigation, appellate practice, media law, communications law, and intellectual property. In 1999-2000, he took a sabbatical to serve under appointment by then president Bill Clinton as director of the White House Commission on Youth Violence several months after the Columbine shootings.
Prior to joining Munger Tolles, he served in the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal of the Hague; as a U.S. Supreme Court clerk for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist; and a law clerk to Circuit Judge Abner J. Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Bleich is a past president of the Bar Association of San Francisco.
He earned his law degree from UC Berkeley, where he has taught as an adjunct lecturer in various subjects including constitutional law. His undergraduate degree is from Amherst College, and he also holds a master’s degree from Harvard University.
Bleich was admitted to the State Bar in 1989.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company