Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Bar Leaders See Inadequate Reforms in LACBA
President-Elect Meyer Asserts CEO Made a ‘Horrible Mistake’ in Signing a Lease Amendment And That Paying a ‘Facilitator’ to Help Mend Fences Is a ‘Bad Idea’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The president-elect of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the chair of the Council of Sections have expressed disappointment over the slowness of progress of LACBA, under President Margaret Stevens, in responding to disgruntlement of members, manifested by the overwhelming defeat in June of candidates put up by the Nominating Committee.
All three of its nominees for officer positions and all five of its choices for contested trustee seats were defeated by large margins. It was the council that put together the opposition slate.
The council embraced two of the Nominating Committee’s selections for Board of Trustees seats, and did not have candidates on the ballot for two other seats (one dropping out, and another being disqualified). Stevens, as president-elect, automatically succeeded to the presidency.
Michael E. Meyer, LACBA’s president-elect, bemoaned at Monday night’s meeting of the Council of Sections the failure of the organization, since new officers and other trustees took office July 1, to advance openness with respect to its documents, and found fault with other actions.
The gist of the complaints by the insurgents in their campaign was that LACBA operates largely in secrecy and in a fiscally irresponsible manner, and that the hierarchy—denominated by critics “LACBA Central”—unduly restricts and hampers section activities. Despite the election results, Stevens is in command of a slim majority; there are hold-over trustees (members of the board have two-year terms), two trustees who were unopposed in the June election and not endorsed by the council, and four appointees by the president to the board: a treasurer and three assistant vice president posts (though one of the three is aligned with the council).
Favorable Development Pledged
Although most of the comments at the meeting reflected disheartenment over the lack of departure from past practices, Meyer did sound one optimistic note, signaling that “in the next two weeks,” there will be a development that “will make you happy.”
Former LACBA President John Carson, who heads the Council of Sections—comprised of representatives of all of the 26 listed sections except three—observed that while there has been “some movement” toward reform, which he attributed to Meyer and others, but said there have not been put forth “bold, creative solutions.”
(A question has been raised as to the actual existence of one of the sections listed by LACBA; the Barristers Section is mulling whether to join the council; and the Litigation Section, which has not joined, is headed by Helen Zukin, a partner of Paul Kiesel, whose actions and policies as last year’s LACBA president are generally cited as the catalyst for the reform movement.)
One council-backed trustee, Ronald Brot, remarked that since July 1, “There’s been no change” in LACBA operations.
Carson Cites Problems
Carson told those assembled at the meeting at the Athletic Club:
“The County Bar has lost members to the tune of a total of 5,000 over the last five years. The bar has lost $2.5 million over the last five years, and they’re going to lose another $710,000 this year.”
LACBA announced late Friday that it would be winding down the Counsel for Justice’s Civic Mediation Project, terminating it by June 30. Carson noted that this move will save only $429,000 a year.
He commented that it is “shocking” that “there are only 234 [dues] paid barristers” when there used to be “thousands.”
LACBA members in their first five years of licensure by the State Bar are automatically members of the Barristers Section, pay no dues the first year, and pay dues in the following four years at a markedly reduced rate.
Carson noted that the Beverly Hills Bar Association, the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, and the Santa Monica Bar Association are operating in the black, and expressed puzzlement as to how Stevens, when apprised of this, could have dismissed it by saying that they are smaller entities. That fact, he declared, should mean that they would face a greater difficulty in making ends meet.
Meyer Opposes Secrecy
Meyer said he opposes confidentiality in LACBA except as to personnel matters, medical records, and “threatened litigation.”
In the past, the bylaws of the association have not been provided to members even in response to individuals’ requests for them. At present, they can be obtained by making a request to the general counsel—who, Senior Vice President Phil Lam pointed out, has no discretion to deny such a request.
“There is no logical reason,” Meyer asserted, “not to put them online,”
Section leaders are, over recently voiced objections by sections, denied email addresses, in possession of LACBA, of the section members, with the association citing privacy concerns. The president-elect said:
“Eventually, I think, we’re going to win on that.”
Meyer, a real estate attorney specializing in leasing agreements, expressed the view that LACBA rents “too much office space.” It has two floors in the building at the northeast corner of Seventh and Bixel streets.
He asserted that LACBA’s chief executive officer Sally Suchil, made a “horrible decision” in signing an amendment to the lease under which LACBA lost its annual prerogative of withdrawing from the leasing agreement. Meyer said LACBA must now “try to sublease some of the space.”
Stevens has slated a “retreat” for Nov. 17 to which section chairs, vice chairs and program chairs have been invited, and in which officers and members of the Section Liaison Task Force, set by the president to examine relations with the sections, will participate. A “facilitator” has been hired to attempt to help work out differences.
Although the figure of $15,000 has been advanced for the cost of the facilitator, Meyer said the actual figure is “closer to $25,000,” when costs are included.
He termed the retreat a “bad idea,” saying the money could be better spent.
Nowland Hong, who chairs the Senior Lawyers Section, said he expressed his concern to Stevens that comments to the facilitator would not be privileged and could spark litigation, but that she assured him that personnel would not be discussed. Susan Booth, who is on the task force, clarified that individual staff members would not be discussed, but that problems with LACBA personnel, in general, would be.
“The problem with personnel is Sally [Suchil].”
Meyer related that when he became president-elect, he “reached out” to Stevens, telling her he wanted to work with her. He said the relationship “started out a little bit rocky,” but that it has become “much better,” now that Stevens realizes “that the problems with the sections are real.”
Former LACBA President Charles Michaels reflected on figures provided to section leaders last December at a “study hall” conducted by Kiesel. He charged:
“These are BS numbers. They cannot be trusted.”
He said one claim that was made was that there were more than 24,000 members of the association. In truth, Michael declared, there were about 17,000 LACBA members as of August, 2011, and roughly 12,000 members as of last August.
Michael produced charts showing increases in expenditures and decreases in membership.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company