Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Attorneys Protest Location of 2009 State Bar Annual Meeting
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Two attorneys active in gay issues spoke out yesterday against the site selected for the 2009 State Bar of California’s Annual Meeting, which is the subject of a boycott by gay and lesbian leaders due to its owner’s financial support of the constitutional amendment overturning same-sex marriage.
The 1,625-room waterfront Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego is owned by the Manchester Financial Group LLC, whose chairman, Doug Manchester, was reported to have contributed $125,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
Woodland Hills attorney Carol Newman, a former president of what is now the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, told the MetNews that she thinks the State Bar should move the meeting to another location.
“We should not be giving that person any money, after he took away, or helped to take away, rights from so many,” she said.
Los Angeles attorney Thomas Watson, co-founder of Love Honor Cherish, which describes itself as a grassroots organization dedicated to marriage equality in California, opined that the location was “something the State Bar should immediately reconsider.”
He suggested that holding the meeting at the hotel would “de facto exclude…any conscientious attorney in California from going” to the event, which was “discriminatory” and “inexcusable.”
With the state’s economy suffering, he maintained “hotels are begging people, begging people, to plan an event,” and that “it would be better not to have the meeting at all than to have it at a place where the State Bar of California would be contributing to someone who is directly contrary to equality for all Californians.”
Watson called for the resignation of the person who made the decision to have the event at the Hyatt and vowed to resign from any bar association which participates in the conference of delegates, which will take place the same weekend.
“I expect there will be serious and profound protests if [the event] is allowed to proceed there,” he predicted, adding that he would be “extremely disappointed” because he “always thought more highly of our State Bar.”
State Bar Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley said yesterday that he was only aware of “five or six” comments or inquiries made to the organization about the hotel selected.
“It has not been a mass demonstration,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not something to take note of.”
Hawley claimed that the organization has looked to see if there is another location that could provide comparable services, but that options “are pretty limited” and “the expense of doing something is significant.”
He explained that the State Bar booked the hotel “five-plus years ago when there was not any known issue,” contracting with the Global Hyatt Corporation, which manages the hotel, to reserve the space for the meeting.
“Hyatt has made it abundantly clear that they are not part of the issue…and we’re really contracting with the Hyatt,” Hawley said.
Additionally, he said the State Bar was obligated “do what is operationally and fiscally prudent,” and that breaching the contract would cause the organization to incur “sizeable” penalties.
“It’s not politics or anything else,” Hawley maintained.
Matthew St. George, a State Bar Conference of Delegates Director At Large said that the delegates “are aware of the problem,” and that the board would be discussing the issue at its next meeting February 7.
But State Bar Conference of Delegates Executive Director Laura Goldin said the conference “doesn’t have any say” over the venue because it contracts with the State Bar to holds its meeting in conjunction with the State Bar’s meeting.
“The conference’s legal contractual obligations should not be seen as reflective of the individual delegates or the affiliated bar associations views on the issue,” she advised.
“The decision is only reflective of our contractual obligations. “
Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, a non-profit organization devoted to drawing attention to the major donors to the Yes on 8 campaign, organized the boycott of the hotel which began in July and “is still very much alive.”
He said that the hotel had lost some big meetings and conventions, and claimed “by their own estimation, they’ve lost $2.4 million in business.”
Despite advocating against the hotel, Karger remained sympathetic to organizations like the State Bar which had reserved space at the hotel before the boycott began.
“You can’t really get out of it without losing half the money or something,” he said, but he suggested that the State Bar and similarly situated organizations could still ask attendees not to patronize the hotel for food, drinks and amenities while there.
The San Diego-based Manchester Financial Group, founded in 1970, also owns the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina, downtown San Diego’s First National Bank building, the La Jolla Bank & Trust Building, the Manchester Business and Research Park, Manchester Executive Centre, Manchester Financial Building, and Grand Del Mar luxury resort and golf course. It also owns a luxury golf resort and private residence community in McCall, Idaho.
A media representative for the company and hotel could not be reached for comment.
The annual meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 10-13.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company