Friday, August 5, 2016
Counsel for Justice Might Be Separated From LACBA
County Bar President Margaret Stevens Says Charitible Projects, Along With All Other Operations, Are Under Scrutiny
By a MetNews Staff Writer
In the course of a wide-ranging discussion of the needs of the financially ailing Los Angeles County Bar Association—which included a questioning of why Counsel for Justice, the charitable arm of LACBA, should be not be detached from the parent organization—association President Margaret Stevens disclosed that all alternatives are being explored and that no programs, including pro bono projects, are viewed as “sacred.”
Stevens’ remarks came during a meeting Wednesday night, of about 90 minutes duration, of the Council of Sections, formed late last year when LACBA sections banded to challenge policies and proposals under the administration of then-President Paul Kiesel. His term of office ended June 30.
LACBA’s support of the Counsel for Justice at a time when the organization is operating at a loss has drawn criticism, of late, as part of a widespread questioning of the wisdom of the organization’s course, culminating in the election in June of a reform slate of candidates to officer and trustee positions.
It was the council that put forth the successful election challenge to all three Nominating Committee candidates for officer positions, in the first contested election in 25 years. It also gained the election of six persons to the Board of Trustees over the Nominating Committee’s choices, while supporting two of the committee’s nominees, and failing to put up a candidate who qualified, under election rules, for a ninth seat.
As president-elect, Stevens automatically became president on July 1.
Stevens, though part of the administration of Kiesel, engaged in no clashes at the Wednesday meeting; rather, seated next to President-Elect Michael E. Meyer, who was the reform-ticket candidate for that post, she assumed the role of a participant in discussions of how to turn LACBA around.
Counsel for Justice presently sponsors the domestic violence legal services project, veterans legal services project, immigration legal assistance project, AIDS legal services project, and civic mediation project.
“The Finance Committee, for the last couple of years, has very much been looking at every aspect of the L.A. County Bar operations, including the projects, and absolutely will continue to do that. I’m just saying we’re going to continue that conversation to look at everything.
“Nothing is sacred. Everything needs to be looked at.”
Meyer expressed the contrary view that the domestic violence and veterans programs ought to be regarded as “sacred” and that it would be “horrible” to separate them from LACBA.
LACBA Assistant Vice President Sheri Bluebond interjected:
“A project may be sacred. Nobody wants to see the end of this project or that project. That doesn’t mean it needs to be in-house, part of LACBA.
“We might be able to look at it in different ways, to structure what we do.
“In order to solve our problem, we’re going to have to think outside the box—outside of all of the boxes.”
She said she believes that “everyone would agree these are wonderful programs and would like to see them continue,” but opined that “how we do it, and how it’s all structured, and how it’s allocated,” in terms of overhead costs, “are good questions.”
Council member Brant Dveirin, immediate past chair of the Real Property Section, commented:
“The question I get from my members is: Why the bar is in the business of the Counsel for Justice?”
Turning to Mark T. Cramer, president of Counsel for Justice, he asked:
“Why do you need the bar?”
Cramer, who was invited to attend by Council Chair John Carson, responded:
“I think that’s part of what we do. It’s fundamental.
“It’s part of our tradition from the 19th Century.”
Cramer noted that over the past year, the Counsel for Justice has raised enough money to pay for its direct costs although, like the sections, not the overhead costs.
Bluebond said of the Counsel for Justice:
“They bring in a lot of money, and they do contribute to the overhead. So, although we could, potentially, roll them out and make them stand on their own, we have to skinny down our overhead, because they’re paying for part of the overhead.
“So, you got to figure that if we take this out of the equation, but if you do, the economic impact on the whole, is the following. So, you got to do the math, and work it through, and that’s not an easy answer.
“You’ve got some good people on the Finance Committee and we’ll be thinking through that, and everything else.”
In 2014, Los Angeles County Bar Foundation, LACBA’s fundraising organization, and Projects Inc., its public service unit, merged into the Counsel for Justice. That year, LACBA forgave an accumulated debt of organization of $546,375 for administrative expenses, with a $2.3 million debt outstanding.
Carson, a former LACBA president, said he had been on the Executive Committee of the foundation when it was a “stand-alone” entity, and recounted:
“We paid for all our own overhead….We were not costing the bar overhead.
“So, there’s another way to do it, and I think Brant’s comment deserves some thought as to how we go about this. I think everything has to be on the table.
“So, I would urge people not to think we were stuck with what we have today.”
Meyer Sounds Warning
Meyer reminded members of the council that “our expenses exceed our revenues, by a wide margin.” He said there needs to be a “greater sense of urgency” as to the need “to turn things around,” warning that otherwise, “horrible things will happen.”
While Stevens predicted the crisis will come to an end during her term as president, Vice President Tamila Jensen declared:
“I don’t think it can be done in one year.”
Several of those speaking referred to the “goodwill” that now prevails, but Jensen asserted that the task will require “a lot more work—and more than goodwill.”
Praise for Stevens
Stevens came in for praise from Meyer, who said:
“She’s been very forthcoming, very cooperative.”
Ronald Brot, a trustee who was backed for election by the council, was a vocal critic of Kiesel’s administration. He said he believes that “philosophically, Margaret is aligned” with members of the council, and declared:
“She’s a very bright woman.”
He hailed her “savvy, and intelligence and leadership,” observing:
“She’s heard the crowd.”
Another officer in attendance was Senior Vice President Phil Lam. Trustees present, in addition to Brot, were Jo-Ann W. Grace, Bradley S. Pauley, Mark L. Sallus, Edwin C. Summers, and William L. Winslow.
Revised Aug. 10, 2016
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company