Monday, May 23, 2016
LACBA’s General Counsel: A Loose Cannon
By ROGER M. GRACE
I had a run-in last year with Paul Kiesel, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. The MetNews had purchased a table at a bar event; Kiesel sat down at it; I explained that he was taking the seat of a guest who was getting a drink; he resisted leaving, quibbling; I told him to “go”; he asked where; I told him.
He then came over to me demanding that I identify myself and I was, well, less than gentle in my pithy response.
LACBA’s Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee sent me a letter which said, without reference to that particular episode, that there was enclosed a copy of LACBA’s new Civility Guidelines which I might find helpful. The letter was, I have learned, drafted by LACBA’s general counsel and chief administrative officer, Clark Brown.
It’s about time that the Executive Committee (the association’s officers) enforce those civility rules as to Brown. He has, of late, been going into snits, spewing insults at persons who have the audacity to question the course LACBA is taking.
His latest tizzy is over a gaffe in Thursday’s issue of the MetNews.
A reporter wrote a story on two candidates on the alternative slate (in opposition to that of the Nominating Committee), one seeking election as LACBA’s senior vice president and the other aspiring to become a trustee. They were being added to the ballot, after having been initially disqualified, despite having a far more than sufficient signatures on their petitions. The reporter was still working on the story late Wednesday when my wife and I left the office to attend a meeting of the Italian American Lawyers Association.
Writing the article under extreme deadline pressure, the reporter incorrectly quoted Jason Ysais, LACBA’s publicist (or “director–marketing, communications and media relations”), as saying that the Elections Committee met “in secret” rather than “in confidence.”
It was a mistake—the sort of thing that happens when one is rushing—but plainly and simply an unintended boner. There was no basis for assuming it had been anything else.
Yet, Brown thundered Thursday in an email to the reporter:
“In your story on LACBA today, you put in quotes something that was never said. When you quote something that was never said in a newspaper, that is a lie.
“I want to know today when the Met News is going to print a correction, and is going to print what was actually said in quotes. As you well know from the email below (the only communication on this issue), Jason never said what you unethically ‘quoted.’ I wonder who is pushing you to make quotes up.”
Brown did not receive a response to his email on Thursday, as demanded. A correction did appear in the Friday edition.
A lie is a false statement uttered with knowledge of the falsity. Even if a reporter were prone to fabricate quotes—and reporters for this newspaper are not—it would be senseless to misquote something, intentionally, that’s in writing, where the true statement could readily be shown.
The reporter, who is a member of the State Bar of California, is not someone susceptible of being pushed by anyone into knowingly sticking falsehoods in a news story, and there is no one at this newspaper who would be inclined to do any such “pushing.”
The reporter is, like all of us, susceptible to erring. And the erring came on a day the proof-reader had left early because of a death in the family.
Brown’s baseless allegations reflect the level of irresponsibility to which he has recently, and quite lamentably, descended.
LACBA’s general counsel has sent electronic missives to one former LACBA president that were laden with innuendo and insults. I’ve been authorized by the recipient to quote the following bit of sassiness by Brown:
“LACBA has changed since roughly 25 years ago when you called the shots as President. The world has changed; the new lawyers are 45 years younger than you now. They are different than you. LACBA is never going back to ‘your LACBA’,…and its not seeking your approval. For instance, LACBA is betting young lawyers want pro bono and public service for desperate people in Los Angeles—and LACBA will invest in that to keep them. Sorry if you and your sub-group of section leaders don’t agree. (And if you and Roger disagree with current leadership so strenuously, LACBA is a private voluntary association—you and any member are always free to vote with your feet.)”
Brown is saying that if a member does not like what LACBA is doing, he or she should skedaddle. Indeed, many, disenchanted with the group, have done just that; the membership is dwindling. Further discussion of his entreaty for dissatisfied members to just go away appears below. For the moment, the topic is the matter of Brown spouting off in communiques.
I’ve also been the target of one of Brown’s harangues.
LACBA put out an amended press release when the Nominating Committee substituted one candidate for another for a trustee’s spot. A question was raised in an email, with multiple recipients, as to the breadth of distribution of the press release, and I responded that we had not received it. Two staff members told me they hadn’t seen it, and it was not in the folder with emails to the News Department on my own PC. Clark Brown, a recipient of my response, disputed what I said. It turned out I was wrong; we had received the press release. I sent a second email which began, “My apologies.”
Brown’s reply contained potshots, including disparagement of my participation in an effort within the Senior Lawyers Section three years ago to gain the election of Nowland Hong—a leading attorney who handles complex litigation and was a founder and two-time president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association—to a contested officer position.
Brown wrote, with respect to my erroneous statement that a press release had not been received:
Would Roger Grace apologize for his mistake? Over his dead body. Way too much class for Roger.
Few bullies ever apologize.
And he has demonstrated while at LACBA he is a classic one. He brought vitriol and attack to the heart of the Senior Lawyer elections years ago—personally attacking and name calling are his trade. What name calling did you do back then, Roger? But that is what you have been good at.
We were asked by members to remove him “please,” as he destroys the good will and fun of volunteering—as bullies do. In hindsight, LACBA should have. But we were too collegial to deal with a bully.
In case your overweening arrogance and vindictiveness blind you, Roger:
- You owe me an apology for falsely claiming what you did—And in front of all these people? Any normal person would be ashamed and embarrassed. I am sure you are not.
- You owe Jason Ysais an apology for just this email alone.
- The list of others at LACBA you own an apology to lies like a wake behind you. LACBA is not your newspaper, Roger. We care about civility here.
I find it ironic, and somewhat humorous, that Brown proclaims an affinity for civility while demonstrating a disregard of it.
In connection with the election of a Senior Lawyers Section secretary, I perceived that a recommendation of our section’s nominating committee was an unwise one…and somehow did not consider it to be “bullying” to join with others in urging the election of someone else.
The majority of the section’s Executive Committee (20 out of 35) endorsed Hong. So did five former LACBA presidents, former Attorney General and former State Bar President John Van de Kamp, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, then-State Bar President Patrick M. Kelly, former District Attorneys Steve Cooley and Robert Philibosian, former Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judges Richard P. Byrne and Robert Parkin, former Court of Appeal Presiding Justice and former State Bar President Charles Vogel, et al.
Hong won in light of his unquestioned worthiness, attested to by his broad array of supporters.
Brown thinks that I ought to have been tossed out of LACBA for having participated in a democratic process? Interesting.
The petulant lawyer for the County Bar apparently requires lecturing on civility, and the need for a calm and considered exercise of discretion in crafting written statements.
The Board of Trustees would do well to review Brown’s past emails of recent date to determine how frequent instances have been of his mindlessly popping off, making a fool of himself and, by necessary implication, LACBA.
•Clark Brown’s stance is that if you protest LACBA’s current approach, scram!
Those who are backing the alternative slate of officers and trustees, put forth by the Council of Sections, would rather not bolt (though five of the sections are apparently considering that course).
The disenchanted loyalists don’t like what LACBA is doing—that is, giving away money and forgiving debts at a time when there is a deficit; coping with its adverse finances by paring the number of programs, and over-charging for those that it does stage; hiding financial and other information relevant to members; over-paying executives. Their objective is to save the organization by instituting reforms.
That strikes me as a worthy goal.
•Brown says, in his insolent remark to an elder bar leader:
“And if you and Roger disagree with current leadership so strenuously, LACBA is a private voluntary association—you and any member are always free to vote with your feet.”
I’m flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence with a distinguished past LACBA president. Actually, I’m a relatively new member of the association who has never held an officer position in it, and covets none. For years, I desisted joining LACBA because I thought it would be inappropriate to be a part of an organization this newspaper was covering. When I suddenly became a member, unwittingly—which is a story for another day—I decided to remain in it, seeing no actual conflict; through the decades, no cause for criticizing the organization had arisen, so that non-criticism in the future, I figured, could not fairly be attributable to my being a member. Cause for criticism now exists, with the Suchilocracy constantly taking wrong turns.
•The conducting of the election has, thus far, been other than even-handed.
An April 15 press release begins: “The Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA), one of the largest voluntary metropolitan bar associations in the country, announced its Officer and Board of Trustees nominees for the 2016-2017 bar year….” The candidates it proceeded to list are the nominees of the Nominating Committee, not LACBA. Those who subsequently gained nomination through petition have equal status.
As previously noted, after efforts commenced to qualify candidates competing with those chosen by the Nominating Committee, by gathering signatures on petitions, rules were announced requiring a separate petition for each signature. Petitions with multiple signatures had to be tossed. The new retroactive rules were then posted on LACBA’s website, with a huge button to press to bring them up. The prominence belatedly lent them did not undo the wasted effort occasioned by the failure to post them before the signature-gathering commenced.
Deputy City Attorney Phil Lam was initially disqualified as a candidate for the post of senior vice president because his dues had not been paid by March 31—the date by which persons had to be on LACBA’s “roster” of members, for purposes of being able to vote and to run for office. Ed Summers, running for the position of a trustee who is a member of an affiliated bar was disqualified because he became a member of the Italian American Lawyers Association after March 31. Both disqualifications were wrongful; although Lam was in arrears in paying dues (or his office was), he had not been stricken from the roster. The March 31 date related only to membership in LACBA and had no bearing on when a candidate joined an affiliated bar association. In response to protests, the Elections Committee (Kiesel, incoming President Margaret Stevens, and Past President Linda Curtis) ordained that the names of Lam and Summers would be on the ballot. There should never have been a question about that.
The Nominating Committee’s choices are Michael K. Lindsey, president-elect; David K. Reinert, senior vice president, and Annaluisa Padilla, vice president. The Council of Sections’ nominees are Michael E. Meyer, president-elect; Lam, senior vice president, and Tamila C. Jensen, vice president.
Those wearing the white hats are Meyer, Lam and Jensen.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company