Wednesday, June 29, 2016
LACBA Installation: Gouging Price, Lousy Food, Babbling Barristers
But It Was Delightful to See Worthy Officers, Trustees Installed
By ROGER M. GRACE
The Los Angeles County Bar Association Installation Dinner—held last Thursday at the Music Center, as it has been for several years—closely resembled last year’s event. In each instance, the tickets were grossly overpriced and the food was abominable.
The one difference for my wife, Jo-Ann, and me was that last year, we felt rooked, having spent $275 each on cruddy cuisine. This year, we were not bilked by LACBA, having been guests at a table.
We are most grateful to our hostess (the fleecee) who incurred the cost, and provided us with the opportunity to see her—Tamila Jensen—sworn in as LACBA vice president, and to witness other worthy reform candidates taking the oath of office. I am quite optimistic that they will succeed in resuscitating an ailing organization that has been suffering from gross mismanagement.
Ronald F. Brot, left, and John F. Hartigan, new LACBA trustees, and Tamila C. Jensen, incoming vice president, take oaths of office.
While last year, a cheap cut of beef, prepared as a steak, was so hard and dry that it was difficult to chew, the meat last Thursday wasn’t. To the contrary, it was soft and soggy. Actually, it was boiled.
The entrée was billed on the menu as “Spanish Braised Beef with Sweet Corn & Yukon Potato Croquette, Chorizo Bilboa, Avocado-Cilantro Chimmichurri.” That’s a highfalutin way of describing brisket on a potato patty surrounded by Niblets corn kernels with small cubes of diced sausage.
They charged $285 this year for a meal seemingly based on paring-down a recipe from the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen Cookbook.
The dessert was described as a “Milk Chocolate Brownie with Popcorn Chantilly, Bourbon Caramel Sauce, Cocoa Nib Nougatine.” It was a brownie with whipped cream and caramel sauce, with decidedly stale popcorn strewn on the plate.
Popcorn with a brownie? I wonder what else Patina Catering’s innovative head cook could conjure up. A salad with spaghetti and prunes? A side dish of poached egg on chili sprinkled with cauliflower?
I’ll confess that I was unfamiliar with several of the words on the menu. So is my dictionary.
What, for example, is “Popcorn Chantilly?” I find no definition.
Chantilly, however, is defined. It’s a village north of Paris. If the popcorn was shipped from there, perhaps by boat, that would explain its staleness.
It is also an adjective describing cream that is “lightly sweetened and whipped.” While there was, in fact, whipped cream on the dessert, that substance did not encase the popcorn. Or maybe that was a last-minute oversight.
An Internet search shows that there are popcorn shops in Chantilly, Virginia. Is one of those establishments the source of the long-ago popped, and now pooped, corn?
“Chimmichurri,” I’ve learned, is not a song from Mary Poppins but “an Argentinian sauce of parsley, oregano, red chilies, lemon zest, vinegar, and olive oil, often served with grilled meat.” I’d like to try that some time. It was not in evidence at the Music Center event.
Last year, Jo-Ann and I were not able to bring the indigestible hunks of aged bovine home to our worthy but culinarily unsophisticated German shepherds. We were advised that doggy bags were not available for that particular event (as if the insulting offering of low-grade grub entailed eloquent dining). In light of that experience, I had a plastic bag in my pocket this year. Fridtjof and Elly, the canine members of our household, had the boiled meat I brought home added to their kibble.
In all fairness, I should mention that hors d’oeuvres were provided during the cocktail reception. There were tiny patties of chopped chicken—i.e., faux crab cakes; “mac and cheese lollipops” (macaroni and cheese in a ball, on a stick); and tiny squares of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, a dish apparently prepared by an expatriate of the Island of Lilliput.
LACBA Central demands of sections staging MCLE events a 25 percent profit. I suspect that an even higher—far higher—profit was realized on Thursday’s rip-off, and it was sans MCLE credit.
Music Center menu for the LACBA Installation
The officers and trustees elected this month on a reform platform have critical issues to tackle, mammoth problems to remedy. A relatively minor matter that I hope will be attended to is the pricing and quality of food at the installations.
Change should also be made in the content of the program. Included for a number of years has been the installation of officers of the Barristers, those members of LACBA who are under the age of 36 or have been admitted to practice for less than five years. Why are they installed at that event?
Few in the audience other than a member of the Barristers has any interest in hearing the words of the Barristers’ incoming and outgoing presidents. Those two leaders took up more time palavering on Thursday (or at least it seemed that they did) than the outgoing and incoming LACBA presidents.
The Barristers are a section. It makes no more sense to include installation of officers of that particular section than to feature installation of officers of the Real Property Section, or any other section.
This is an instance where a policy of “separate and not equal” ought to apply. Let any section—including the Barristers—that wants to hold an installation of officers do so, on its own…but obviously not with the pomposity and expense of the installation of LACBA officers and trustees, and not as a part of that ceremony.
There are critical changes that need to be made in LACBA, and this isn’t one of them. But I would hope that in planning next year’s installation, thought would be lent to the proposition that the swearing in of the Barristers’ president should occur at a separate proceeding.
Too, automatically including the president and president-elect of the Barristers on the LACBA Executive Committee (the body which in recent years has made the key decisions which are merely rubber-stamped by the trustees) is also a practice that is overdue for scrutiny. While it is said that “Youth must be served,” there are limits to the deference that should be lent the greenest members of the association.
Waiving dues for the first year of LACBA membership is a sensible means of inducing neophyte members to join, but that should be the limit of special privileges.
The lion’s share of credit for the election outcome goes to LACBA Past Presidents John Carson (1994-95) and Charles E. Michaels (2006-07), along with incoming Senior Lawyers Chair Nowland Hong (a founder and twice president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association). Each devoted several hours a day to the task of getting out the message of a need for change.
It was a challenge.
After scores of signatures were gathered on petitions to qualify candidates to oppose those chosen by the Nominating Committee, rules were announced, backdated to the previous month, requiring—atypically—that each petition bear the signature of only one person. Existing petitions had to be scrapped.
LACBA Central initially disqualified two candidates based on pretexts, but ultimately acquiesced in their running.
Slyly, it developed an electronic ballot with names of the reform candidates for officer positions clumped at the left with other type (described, in typographical terms, as an area that is “busy”) while names of Nominating Committee candidates were in the center with no distractions, in a field to which the eye would naturally gravitate.
On the last two days of voting, phone calls were made by LACBA Central to those who hadn’t cast ballots yet—activity that is, on its face, neutral, but not so in context. Most of the voting, by then, had no doubt been spurred by knowledge of where LACBA is headed and a desire to alter the course. The get-out-the-vote effort was, in all probability, aimed at cancelling out ballots of the informed with those who were oblivious to the state of affairs and would simply vote for those chosen by the Nominating Committee.
Oddly, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal trade paper, which has never hesitated to run ads placed by the Breakfast Club in favor of candidates for the State Bar Board of Trustees, refused to accept ads for LACBA’s reform-slate candidates.
Despite obstacles, the “good guys” won, overwhelmingly.
Here are some needed reforms that various persons have pinpointed:
• All financial records—as well as the recent outside audit by Green Hasson & Janks LLP—should be made freely available.
• Agendas for Board of Trustees meetings—now disseminated to trustees about 24 hours in advance, with courtesy copies to section leaders bereft of attachments—should be sent out, as well as posted on the LACBA website, at least one week in advance. Agendas for the Executive Committee meetings, not even provided to trustees, should likewise be accessible online, as should the minutes from meetings of both the Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees.
• The association bylaws, now a semi-secret document, should be posted on the website.
• Sections should be permitted to stage “showcase” events that lose money, so long as they show an overall profit for the year. By requiring that sections over-charge for programs, attendance is minimized. The edict to present fewer programs lessens the reason for belonging to a section. Section membership is dwindling, as is LACBA membership.
• Sally Suchil, a major source of LACBA’s sorry state, should be removed as chief executive officer. Although she does have an employment contract (to which trustees are not, but should be, privy), a bylaw spells out: “The Chief Executive Officer shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees.” Suchil’s enjoyment of the benefits of that contract is thus contingent upon her remaining in the good graces of the board. (Also, a bylaw says: “The Association shall have a Treasurer, Secretary, Chief Executive Officer, Assistant Vice Presidents, and such other Officers as the President may from time to time appoint, subject to approval by the Board of Trustees.” This would point to the need for an annual appointment of a CEO. Incoming LACBA President Margaret Stevens appointed a treasurer, secretary, and assistant vice presidents in advance of her presidency, which begins Friday, and the appointments were—prematurely—approved by the 2015-16 Board of Trustees, rather than the 2016-17 board. But she did not reappoint the CEO. Whatever year’s board approved Suchil’s last multi-year contract obviously could not usurp the power of succeeding boards to approve, or not approve, Suchil’s continued employment.)
• Should a search be undertaken for a new CEO, the myth should not be propagated, as it was last time, that the bylaws require that the holder of the post be an attorney.
• Sight should not be lost of the power of each year’s board to set the salary of the CEO. (Suchil, who regularly comes to work at about 4 p.m., reportedly draws, with benefits and bonuses, about $400,000 a year.) A bylaw provides that the CEO “may be compensated” and that “[s]uch compensation shall be approved by the Board of Trustees.” Any contractual provision setting Suchil’s wages is, clearly, dependent upon annual confirmation by the board.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company