Tuesday, January 27, 2009
LACBA Delegation Issues Letter Objecting to Convention Location
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Opposition to the selected venue for this year’s State Bar and Conference of Delegates meetings continued unabated yesterday, heedless of Friday’s decision by the Board of Governors not to intervene in the dispute.
Los Angeles County Bar Association President Dannette E. Meyers told the MetNews that LACBA’s delegation to the Conference of Delegates has issued a letter objecting the State Bar’s selection of the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego for this year’s events, and two LACBA committees have also asked to issue a similar letter.
Meyers said that two-thirds of the delegation had voted in favor of sending a letter to State Bar President Holly Fujie expressing their concern over patronizing the Manchester Financial Group-owned establishment, due to Chairman Doug Manchester’s support of the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The letter, authored by Los Angeles attorney James W. Gilliam, chairman of the delegation, said that many of the delegation’s members were “dismayed” at the State Bar’s choice of location.
“[M]any of out Delegation members have expressed that they will not stay at the Manchester Hyatt Hotel, nor will they attend MCLE courses held there,” Gilliam cautioned. “We are concerned that many members of our Delegation will not attend the CDCBA and the State Bar Annual Meeting, if it is held at the Manchester Hyatt Hotel.”
He proposed that the Conference of Delegates meet at the San Diego Convention Center or another alternative site so that members of the LACBA delegation could participate without having to choose between their desire to attend and their consciences.
Meyers said she would hate to see members of the delegation not attend because of the conrtoversy, but acknowledged it was a real possibility.
“My personal request is to move the conference,” she said, echoing Gilliam’s suggestion. “It seems to me the logical thing to do.”
The LACBA board will discuss and vote on its response to requests from the Sexual Orientation Bias Committee and Family Law Section that the organization send a letter to the State Bar objecting to the venue atits February meeting, Meyers said. “Unless the State Bar comes out and says, ‘We’re moving the site.’”
But the State Bar Board of Governors decided not to take any action duing an emergency meeting Friday, State Bar Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley said.
“[T]he status quo continues to exist as far as the site location for the 2009 annual meeting,” he told the MetNews.
State Bar President Holly Fujie explained that the board’s decision was based on the cost of canceling its reservation for this meeting and the 2011 meeting, which was also scheduled to take place at the same hotel, as well as the lack of an available alternate location.
“We’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she said.
If the State Bar cancelled its 2009 event, it would be liable for $425,867 in liquidated damages, Fujie said, and canceling the 2011 event would cost the organization an additional $243,515.
She also cautioned that breaching the contract with the hotel might actually allow Manchester to make more money than the hotelier would if the event took place as planned.
Even if the cost were not an issue, there are no acceptable alternate locations, Fujie claimed.
The State Bar is holding its meeting simultaneously with the California Judges Association, which is hosting its event at the Marriott hotel next door, “so we have to be in San Diego,” Fujie explained.
Fujie said the board was concerned with having to look into the investors of all the potential alterative locations, and with its obligation as a public entity to not spend member dues to support or oppose political issues.
“If we used nondues money to cancel the annual meeting, that’d be the money we use for diversity projects,” which would be a “devastating loss for our work for access to justice,” Fujie said.
“And we’d still get sued,” she predicted, because the group could be perceived as engaging in a political action by moving the event.
“I personally wish there was something we could do, but we can’t,” Fujie claimed.
Beverly Hills Bar Association President Nancy Knupfer said that she was “disappointed” by the State Bar’s decision Friday.
Knupfer had written a letter to Fujie on behalf of her organization requesting a change in venue on Jan. 16, and although she said she never received a response from the State Bar, she has been receiving some “hate mail.”
Her letter stated that she personally will not stay at the Manchester Hyatt and that the association would prefer that its members not stay there or attend any bar-related event, reception, meeting or MCLE courses held there. She also voiced concern that many members would boycott the event entirely.
“I know that many of our members will not cross a picket line for a labor problem,” Knupfer told the MetNews. “The important thing is people have a choice and they have to make their own choice. Everyone has to do what they find appropriate.”
The hotel has been the target of a boycott organized by Californians Against Hate, a non-profit organization devoted to drawing attention to the major donors to the Yes on 8 campaign, and UNITE HERE, San Diego’s hotel workers’ union.
Daniel Rottenstreich, a spokesperson for UNITE HERE, said that the organization felt the State Bar should honor the boycott and predicted that many lawyers and local bar associations would do so.
“This isn’t about money, and this isn’t about politics, this is about doing the right thing for its own membership,” Rottenstreich said. “If the State Bar says it’s going to cost them too much money to move or they don’t take political stands, they’re really ignoring the real issue, which is their very own membership is calling for them to move the event out of this hotel.”
He cautioned that picket lines and rallies have been staged at the hotel with regularity since the boycott began in July, “which may very well” impact the State Bar’s events.
Los Angeles attorney Thomas B. Watson, co-founder of Love Honor Cherish, an organization dedicated to marriage equality, said the State Bar’s decision was “simply wrong.”
He questioned how the group that represents the lawyers of the state could “be so poor at negotiating a contract that they could not get out of it for some moderate cancellation penalty when the conference is still eight months away,” adding “whoever negotiated the contract should be fired.”
Based on the number of local bar associations that vehemently opposed Proposition 8, Watson opined that it “should not have been a difficult decision” for the State Bar to have immediately withdrawn from the contract after Manchester’s donation was made public.
“This is a decision the State Bar will come to regret,” Watson predicted.
The State Bar and Conference of Delegates meetings are scheduled to take place Sept. 10-13.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company