Monday, February 14, 2011
State Bar President’s Governance Reform Proposal Draws Fire
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A proposal by State Bar President William N. Hebert to change the way members of the Board of Governors is selected has drawn sharp criticism from local attorneys.
Los Angeles Deputy Public Defender Luis J. Rodriguez, who last year was elected to a three-year term on the board to represent Los Angeles County, said Friday that he had not yet decided whether he supported Herbert’s proposal that potential governors be appointed by the California Supreme Court, but he objected to the manner in which it was made.
He explained that members of the State Bar Governance Task Force—a 10-member panel which was created pursuant to a provision in last year’s dues bill—have been meeting since September and engaging in “free-flowing” discussion as to “what changes should or should not be made,” so he was “completely shocked” to be presented last Tuesday with Hebert’s detailed, 50-page proposal.
“I was disappointed because my understanding throughout the whole process was we were going to work together in an open forum and discuss ideas,” but the proposal “gave me the impression that minds have been made up,” Rodriguez said. He called it “frustrating” and “disconcerting” that Hebert “has obviously made up his mind” before the proposal has been “truly vetted out.”
Hebert was not in his office on Friday and did not return a message seeking comment. Other board representatives from Los Angeles either declined comment or could not be reached.
Under Hebert’s proposal, potential bar governors would be vetted by a committee and then considered for appointment by the high court. The composition of the board would also reduce the number of attorney members from 17 to 11, while keeping six representatives chosen by the governor and lawmakers.
Other local bar leaders spoke out against the proposal, expressing concern that an appointment process might adversely affect the diversity of board membership and its capacity to adequately represent all the interests of attorneys across the state.
San Fernando Valley Bar Association President Seymour Amster insisted that “the keynote of any representative body always is to be one that reflects the diversity of the citizens they represent, and to give the individuals they are representing the greatest opportunity of access to being part of the representative body.”
He said that “taking the vote away from the members” and establishing an appointment process would be “a step back from the principles of democracy that have governed our country for well over 200 years.”
Hebert’s proposal “should be looked at hard” and “it should be determined why there should not be an election by the members, and second, why there should not be geographic representation as proposed by the San Fernando Valley Bar Association,” Amster added. His group has urged creation of a separate Board of Governors district for the San Fernando Valley.
Breakfast Club President
Victor W. Santochi, head of the Breakfast Club, whose primary function is endorsing candidates for the Board of Governors, remarked that his organization “has historically supported candidates from diverse backgrounds representing clients and constituents who seek access to courts in the judicial system” and that he felt “the election process by State Bar districts is an effective way to have the needs of the people served on the Board of Governors.”
But Alan Steinbrecher, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, said there was merit in at least part of what Hebert was proposing.
LACBA does not see the need for major changes in how the State Bar operates, he said. But having the state high court make at least some of the appointments, creating a vetting committee, allowing board members to serve two terms, and setting a minimum length of practice requirement for board members all might improve the process, he told the MetNews.
Robert Fellmeth, who is the executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law and served in the legislatively created position of State Bar discipline monitor from 1987 to 1992, however, called Hebert’s proposal “a step forward” that “moves the Bar into an ethically defensible position as a state agency that is appointed by public officials, not by its cartel.”
He noted that “no other agency allows its professionals to select the members who make up its government board” and “no other agency in the state is so unbalanced in favor of the professionals being regulated,” contending there was no reason for the practice of law to be treated differently except for “arrogance.”
Fellmeth had suggested moving to an appointment system for the board at a public hearing of State Bar Governance Task Force in January, which drew skeptical reactions from Michael Tenenbaum, a Ventura County attorney who was elected to the board as a reform advocate, and Mexican-American Bar Association President Victor Acevedo.
Tenenbaum, at the hearing, had questioned whether candidates such as himself, coming from outside of the organized bar and advocating change, would be among those selected to the board if an appointment process were used.
Acevedo said his group supported election of attorney members and objected to proposals to alter the ratio of lawyer-to-public board members, saying chaos would ensue if public members were able to outvote the attorneys.
A debate on Hebert’s proposal is scheduled for a March 2 meeting of the task force in Los Angeles, and a formal recommendation on it must be made to the Legislature by May 15.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company