Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Panel Confirms Ventura Lawyer’s Election to Board of Governors
By J’AMY PACHECO, Staff Writer
Ventura attorney Michael Tenenbaum was confirmed Friday as eligible to represent District 6 on the State Bar Board of Governors, seven weeks after winning election.
While the ballots in that election were canvassed July 10, certification of the results was delayed because of what officials said were questions about where the winner actually practiced law.
Only 19 percent of the district’s attorneys participated in the balloting. Redlands attorney Bryan Hartnell, who was supported by all the major bar associations in the district, lost by 118 votes, while Riverside attorney A. Benjamin Aames came in third.
District 6 encompasses the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, as well as the coastal counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.State Bar rules require that a governor’s principal place of practice be located within the district that governor represents. When questions were raised about Tenenbaum’s law practice address – which is a mail receiving service – the State Bar launched an investigation.
Tenenbaum has maintained that he practices from his Thousand Oaks home, and a committee appointed at the direction of the Bar of Governors has now accepted that assertion.
Tenenbaum’s election marks the first time in 17 years that a candidate supported by the district’s major bar associations has not won election to the seat. Historically, the coastal and interior portions of the non-contiguous district have alternated representation, and the counties on each side have rotated holding the seat, under a 20-year-old understanding among the voluntary bar associations in the five counties.
Carmen Ramirez, a Ventura lawyer who currently represents District 6, on Friday expressed concern about the future of the unwritten rotation agreement.
“I’m concerned, because it’s a difficult district to represent. The rotation agreement has worked well in years past,” she said, adding that bar associations in the five counties have enjoyed a good working relationship under the agreement. The future of the agreement, she said, “remains to be seen, because it’s not functioning at this time.”
Ramirez, who did not participate in the investigation or any decisionmaking involving Tenenbaum’s eligibility, said she would encourage Tenenbaum to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by making time to travel to the distant inland counties. She described Tenenbaum as “unhappy” with her support of the rotation agreement, and said he had not returned her telephone calls.
“I’m sure I will meet up with him,” she said. “I’m still the representative until he is sworn in.”
“I look forward to his active involvement in our local bar activities. Carmen [Ramirez], Jim [Heiting], James [Herman] and Michael [Case] have set a high standard for leadership. I trust that we can expect the same from him. He will have my support.”
Heiting, Herman, and Case are past board members from the district, with Heiting and Herman—now a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge—having served as president.
William Shapiro, president of the San Bernardino County Bar Association, offered congratulations to Tenenbaum.
He pointed to the geographic diversity of the district as a reason for the need for a rotation agreement.
“Lawyers from San Luis Obispo rarely interact with or have similar issues with those of San Bernardino,” he stated. “Such being the case, I think its important that all the counties making up District 6 be adequately represented.
“Personally, I like the agreement, as it assures that in any decade, the lawyers in all counties are truly represented,” he added. “However this is countered by everyone’s right to run for the office, which I also stand behind. Under the bylaws governing the State Bar, everyone has that right and I agree. This involves balance.”
Matthew P. Guasco, president of the Ventura County Bar Association, stressed that his organization “uniformly, unanimously and unequivocally” supported the rotation agreement which, he observed, has “worked well.” But he pointed out that any eligible attorney can declare candidacy, and every lawyer is free to vote how they choose.
“I think these things happen in free elections,” he said. He recalled an instance in the first election under the agreement, in which a Riverside lawyer declared candidacy and won election in spite of an understanding that representation would come from San Bernardino County.
Guasco, whose organization has about 1,200 members, said he would “wholeheartedly support” the idea of bar leaders from the five counties getting together to reevaluate the agreement, and to reexamine the makeup of the district.
James B. Maguire III, president of the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association, echoed those sentiments.
“I do feel it’s time to revisit the issue,” he said. “I think the bar associations need to say if they still agree.” Maguire, whose organization has about 400 members, said the process should start “sooner than later.”
Tenenbaum could not be reached Friday for comment. He said in a July interview that he was not aware of the agreement, and said it would not have dissuaded him from running.
Guasco said his organization would, “of course, respect the election result” and would “look forward to working in a constructive manner with Mr. Tenenbaum.”
Tenenbaum and other newly elected board members will be sworn in Sept. 27 during the State Bar’s annual meeting in Monterey.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company