Friday, March 18, 2016
Kiesel Pledges No Ramrodding of Proposed Bylaw Amendment
Gives Assurance That Controversial Measure Won’t Be Enacted Without Sections’ Consent
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
Los Angeles County Bar President Paul Kiesel has backed down from his insistence that a bylaw change be enacted to formalize LACBA’s current practice of denying any control by sections over their own finances, assuring those assembled at a meeting of the newly-formed Council of Sections on Wednesday:
“There will be no bylaw amendment without the buy-in from the sections who are affected by it.”
If Kiesel observes his pledge, the proposal would appear dead, at least for the present. The Council of Sections, comprised of 18 sections, has voted to fight the measure, and opposition papers have been presented by eight of the sections.
The bylaw, as it now reads, provides for each section to have its own account. Profits from one meeting can be used to subsidize a showcase event designed to attract section membership.
Under the current practice—which is generally conceded to be in conflict with the bylaw—all revenues from section events go into a central account; each individual section event is required to make money; LACBA approval of each proposed event is required; and it sets the price.
“I work by consensus,” Kiesel told the 24 section representatives present, adding:
“I want us to work together. I do not want dissension.”
Kiesel’s conciliatory manner at Wednesday night’s get-together at the Athletic Club was in contrast to that he displayed at the Nov. 18 Board of Trustees meeting at which he initially expressed an intention to bar representatives of the sections from speaking in opposition to the proposed bylaw change, which they had learned about earlier that day. He acquiesced to the apparent desire of the board to listen, and time was allotted for remarks by section leaders, including LACBA past presidents John Carson, chair of the Council of Sections, and Charles Michaels.
It was decided to postpone a vote on the matter until the January meeting, which did not take place. The proposal has been lingering, with opposition to it, and to proposed guidelines on events that are held by sections, mounting.
Under proposed guidelines, each non-MCLE event must make a 20 percent profit, and MCLE events must make a 25 percent profit. Any event for which less than 40 persons registered would be cancelled, and free MCLE brown bag lunches would be banned.
Kiesel acknowledged that “there is a reason for having free brown bag for CLE,” and said:
“We’re in the process of adjusting the proposed guidelines for further discussion.”
Wednesday’s meeting had been intended as a round table discussion with members of the Board of Trustees, but shortly after the invitation was extended, Kiesel dispatched an e-mail to trustees seeking to dissuade them from attending. It was not until Tuesday that he agreed to come, himself, and was accompanied by LACBA’s senior vice president and treasurer, Michael K. Lindsey.
Only three other trustees—tax attorney LaVonne D. Lawson, Wells Fargo capital markets counsel Sarah V. J. Spyksma, and Metropolitan News Company president and general counsel Jo-Ann W. Grace—showed up.
Kiesel announced at the outset that he could only stay about 45 minutes. He listened as section representatives expressed their frustrations over LACBA’s policies and performance, capped by an assault on the chief executive officer, Sally Suchil.
Carson kicked off the discussion by observing that section members have felt “ignored, talked down to, treated like second-class citizens,” but expressed confidence that differences would be worked out, as they had been on other occasions through the years.
Among eight persons making presentations was Brant Dveirin, chair of the Real Property Section. He expressed concern, as did others, that LACBA is giving away too much of its funds to the Counsel for Justice, LACBA’s charitable arm.
He posed the question—which was not answered—as to what percentage of membership dues are diverted to Counsel for Justice.
William Winslow, chair of the Trust and Estates Section, complained that “starting in 2006,” LACBA “has increasingly squeezed the sections.”
He told the trustees:
“I wonder if you all might be a little out of touch with the rank-and-file and their reaction to these pricing things. I submit that the proposals that have been advanced recently by LACBA Central will make your financial situation worse.”
He asserted that LACBA has “a failing approach, with all these subsidies and deficits,” and in a few years will run out of money.
He argued that the subsidies to the Counsel of Justice “cannot go on.”
Also heard were the points that high charges for meetings will deter attendance and that LACBA policies are demoralizing members.
Kiesel broke in to say he had to leave and received Carson’s permission to deliver parting remarks. He said:
“You made some really good points. Some of the points we’ve already heard and made modifications to….
“I’m really deeply moved that you all came here tonight and given more of your time. I’m committed to working with you.
“Nothing’s going to happen without your participation. We have a fiduciary obligation, as your board, to respond to your needs, and it’s my commitment, as long as I’m president, to do exactly that—and I’m sorry I have to run, I have an appointment to be somewhere else.”
Kiesel invited those present to come to the April Board of Trustees meeting, adding, however, that it might not be necessary to come “because what we’ve been talking about, we can begin to implement changes to, without your having to come to us, because I hear you.”
Dveirin queried whether he also spoke for Margaret Stevens, who will become president in four months. He responded:
“I speak for the officers of the L.A. County Bar Association. And Margaret’s not here, I assure you I’m going to carry this message to her.”
“Paul, we’d also like to see that message taken to the staff, as well.”
Michaels, a past chair of the Corporate Law Section, said his section has encountered a “lack of response” from staff to requests to hold events, “which has killed our programs, killed our Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award.”
“We are so angry about that, our section is even considering other alternatives.”
It is known that the section is contemplating divorcing itself from LACBA and affiliating with one of a few other organizations.
“Charlie, nothing’s frustrated me more than the Litigation Section, the Antitrust Section, the Appellate Section, your section, not getting the kind of response you need from staff.”
He went on to say:
“We’re a customer support-driven business, and if we’re not giving service, we’ve got a problem with our business.”
David A. Tillem, vice chair of the Business Law and Bankruptcy Section, told Kiesel:
“Congratulations. You have a problem with your business.”
Laughter ensued, and Kiesel quipped: “Meeting adjourned?”
Staff Inefficiency Alleged
“We can’t get staff to send out notices of our meetings. We can’t get staff to return phone calls.
“We can’t get staff to send out bulletins. We can’t get staff to give us a list of our own members so we know who’s in our section.
“So, you’re failing. If that’s your mission, you’re failing.”
“We’ve got a problem.”
Keith Dillman, chair of the Litigation Section, pushed a paper coffee cup to the center of the table.
“The elephant in the room,” he said, pointing to the cup, “is not staff. Staff is taking its orders from above.
“It’s the committee structure, it’s the hierarchy, it’s the secretism of the organization. That’s not the trustees, and it’s not the staff.
“That comes from a higher place, and that’s the problem. And that’s what we need to address.
“So, we can talk around this issue. Until we address Sally [Suchil], nothing’s going to happen.”
Michaels immediately jumped in, declaring that “a lot of the sections” share Dillman’s concern, saying that it is perceived that the marching orders “come from Sally.”
(Through the balance of the two-hour discussion, the cup was pointed to, it symbolizing Suchil.)
Dillman, of the law firm of McCool Smith Herrigan, told of an event that was planned by his section that included giving out two “clerk of the year” awards, with one of the honorees chosen by the Los Angeles Superior Court, the other by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
He said the section was held up for two weeks in identifying the recipients in its publicity until the honorees, chosen by the courts, received LACBA approval.
Kiesel responded that efforts are being made to replace staff members who have “cycled out.” He agreed that staff needs to be more responsive, but turned the tables, and said that sections must give them “enough lead time” to plan for events.
“Nothing you have said to me in this session is either a surprise to me or wrong. None of it.
“I will take it all in and will carry the message back….
“I have absolute confidence that this will work out—that we will have working ground, going forward.”
Kern Expresses Views
As he prepared, again, to exit, Kiesel tossed in that one provision of proposed events guidelines that he “loved most” and doesn’t “want to change” was that providing for diversity on each panel participating in a discussion at a LACBA program. That prompted Robert L. Kern, representing the Small Firms Section, to comment:
“One of the problems with racial diversity is that many of those persons are lower income and younger.”
They “cannot afford” LACBA’s high charges, he pointed out.
He made particular note of the high prices for mandatory training to serve on the Probate Volunteer Panel. Those who can’t afford the fees, he said, “are mad as hell.”
He said of African Americans and Asian Americans with whom he works:
“They don’t give a damn about the L.A. County Bar because the L.A. County Bar doesn’t give a damn about them.”
Kiesel departed, but Lindsey remained, and the discussion continued for another hour and a quarter.
Highlighting the ensuing discussion was Michaels’ revelation that Suchil’s annual remuneration has swelled from $197,851 in 2010 to $374,261 in 2013. The 2013 figure includes benefits and a $20,000 bonus.
Michaels told Lindsey:
“You say, ‘Trust us.’ Let me tell you, you need to build the trust with the sections….
“I think a lack of transparency, I think a lack of responsiveness, the poor, despicable service, is wrong”
He disclosed he contemplated following the example of former LACBA President Joseph Mandel by resigning from the organization.
Michaels said he decided to “stick to the end to see if we can’t reform the association, and I’m not going down without a fight.”
“We can have a dialogue. We can try to work it out, But if you want a war, there will be some of us who will give you a war.”
Carson reminded Lindsey that “[w[e have continually asked for financials,” and been denied them. He said the impression is:
“The bar’s afraid. The bar must be hiding something.”
Appellate Courts Section Chair Bradley S. Pauley—whose section would be compelled to raise the cost of its $15 two-hour MCLE talks from $15 to $95 for section members under the proposed guidelines, remarked:
“LACBA is really not a market-based CLE provider….What business asks their customers to do all their own work and then charge them market rates for it?”
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company