If Park Has Won, LACBA Has Lost
By Roger M. Grace
Balloting for the post of Los Angeles County Bar Association president-elect ended last night at 11:59, hours after this issue went to press. While my hope is that the victor will be Jo-Ann W. Grace, my wife, I have of late become doubtful that such is to be—not because her opponent has proved worthy, but because that foe was adroit at deception.
Ann I. Park, of the law firm of Foley & Mansfield, was the other candidate. She enlisted the support of ethnic bar associations through an insidious whisper campaign in which Jo-Ann was portrayed, falsely, as an antagonist to diversity in the legal profession. Bar associations can be highly influential in mobilizing their members—as Jo-Ann found out in 2006 when the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association became instrumental in gliding her to victory in an election for a seat on the State Bar Board of Delegates (as those respective organizations were then known).
In the present contest, Ann openly accused Jo-Ann of insensitivity to racial bias by ascribing to her views expressed by Ann Coulter—not because Jo-Ann had expressed agreement with Coulter’s views but because this newspaper had carried a particular piece authored by that nationally syndicated columnist. The column in question had not been not seen by Jo-Ann before it was published (her function as co-publisher does not include reviewing syndicated matter) and was a column with which, upon her later examination of it, she found she disagreed.
Ann’s assault was founded on illogic. It was underhanded. It typifies her.
The lowest blow came when Ann, pressing her rather inane position that Jo-Ann had a conflict of interest in running for office because we lease space to LACBA, proclaimed in a salvo on the election listserv:
“Given the revelations as to Girardi, do you seriously think it would serve LACBA well to have its landlord, who is earning $500,000 in the next two years, to become President-Elect of LACBA?”
In reaction to that remark, one judge who has been following the contest commented to me in an email:
“I am appalled by the tactics of Park and her acolytes, and sincerely hope those tactics will fail.”
For Ann to have likened Jo-Ann to Thomas V. Girardi—who is on the precipice of being disbarred based on an alleged pattern of cheating clients, on a massive level—was, I submit, unconscionable.
LACBA solicited a lease on the corner space in our building at Second and Spring Streets; the proposed lease was examined by LACBA’s counsel; the Board of Trustees approved the lease, without opposition; Jo-Ann, though an assistant vice president and a trustee of LACBA did not participate in the trustees’ discussion.
And so, how was Jo-Ann someone on a par with Girardi? He’s accused of bilking vulnerable laypersons. Jo-Ann was involved in leasing space to an organization of lawyers—persons presumably not susceptible to being rooked by a crafty landlord—and neither Ann nor anyone else has pointed, or could point, to any unfair terms of the lease, let alone something that was sneaked in.
The allegation of a conflict of interest was baseless and dishonest; beyond that, the likening of Jo-Ann to Girardi was a despicable slur.
Jo-Ann launched no personal attacks on Ann. Instead, she pointed to differences in their positions.
If Ann prevails in the race, it will be through means foul, not fair.
I would note that whatever the outcome, Jo-Ann’s dignity, integrity, and sense of fair play will emerge as unreproachable. The same cannot possibly be said of Ann.
As a columnist, I’m at liberty to observe what Jo-Ann did not say as a candidate, and would not utter now (though the objectively demonstrable facts clearly show it to be so):
If Ann I. Park has won, LACBA will be saddled with a president in 2022-23 who is ambitious to the point of utter untrustworthiness, whose devotion to herself transcends any dedication to interests of the association, and whose conduct and pronouncements in its name will leave the association sullied.
BRAVO! YUK!: As a youth, I enjoyed the “Puffs and Pans” column by Jack Lait Jr. in the Sunday Examiner’s Weekly TV log. Items were set forth with indications at the outset of either approbation (“puff”) or disdain (“pan”). Maybe the format had been used earlier; I’ve seen uses of it later, including incorporation of “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” drawings.
Here are some observations on the now-concluded election:
Los Angeles Daily Journal: BOO! The DJ purports to cover the Los Angeles legal community. From what can be discerned from LACBA’s recently published book “Lawyers of Los Angeles, 1950-2020,” the current contest for president-elect—leading to automatic election as president as of July 1, 2022—marks only the third time there has been a contested election for the top office the association’s 143-year history. Yet, what coverage has the Daily Journal given it? None. Through the years, it has avoided mention of Jo-Ann’s name. There was an omission of it years ago that was almost comical: it ran an article on a report by a unit of the American Bar Association but did not tell of a dissent to the report even though that dissent was of especial relevance to a Los Angeles publication because it was penned by a Los Angeles attorney. Jo-Ann.
When Jo-Ann ran in 2006 for the State Bar Board of Governors, the Breakfast Club, which backed her, bought ads in the DJ. Copying the approach in this year’s LACBA election, we scheduled a full-page ad to run in that newspaper on May 3, the first day of balloting (as well as in the METNEWS). At the last minute, the DJ announced that the ad was being bounced in light of its need to maintain objectivity. I don’t know how the carrying of a paid ad connotes allegiance to the advertiser on the part of its reporting staff.
Robert Kern, Donna Kirkner, James Gorton: RAH! These are lawyers who participated in the election listserv and effectively debunked some of the pap spewed by Park and her adherents.
Julia Birkel: HISS! Birkel is a member of the LACBA Board of Trustees and is a Parkite. On April 16, LACBA Executive Director Stan Bissey announced in an email to trustees that a request for advertising in L.A. Lawyer had been made by a candidate (Jo-Ann), that the Elections Committee had made some proposals as to limiting advertising, and that “LACBA’s current policy does not prohibit election candidates from purchasing LACBA publication ads.” Later that day, Ann declared: “I object to the acceptance of advertising for campaign purposes.” The next day, Birkel queried: “Since LACBA nominated Ann, would LACBA be funding advertising for her as its candidate?” LACBA President Tamie Jensen responded to Birkel on the 18th that “[a]ny candidate would be subject to the same rules and same opportunities” in advertising and “at the same cost.”
The question Birkel posed was a goofy one. LACBA had not “nominated Ann.” The majority of a 14-member Nominating Committee, which included Birkel, nominated her. Through petitions, 103 members nominated Jo-Ann. Both were, on equal par, nominees.
The suggestion that an organization conducting an election subsidize the campaign advertising of one of two members who are competing was innovative, but hardly comported with common notions of fair play.
Indeed Gorton said, diplomatically, in one reply to Birkel on the listserv, in an unrelated context: “I certainly yield to none in my admiration of your power of invention.”
Gorton (who Jo-Ann and I have, to the best of our knowledge, never met) retorted, succinctly and intelligently, to emails by Birkel, Park’s chief advocate. Birkel repeatedly insisted that Jo-Ann had a conflict of interest. At one point, in alluding to the prospect of LACBA renewing its lease, Birkel spoke in terms of a need to avoid Jo-Ann “negotiating with herself” if she became president. Birkel persisted in decrying the supposed conflict through argumentation that was clever but devious, even after Jo-Ann pointed out:
“Julie’s points are predicated on the supposition that if I served as 2022-23 president, negotiations between LACBA and me over the lease would take place during that time period. That’s not so.
“The lease expires in January 2023. LACBA has two two-year options, with renewal on the original terms. However, if the lease is to be extended beyond January 2023, the option must be exercised by April 2022. Brad Pauley will still be president then.”
Birkel, while creative in her argumentation, is plainly disingenuous, a propagator of balderdash. Perhaps her creativity serves her well in her law practice, but it does not mark her as a person warranting respect. Crafty ploys surely have no place in the position-taking by leaders in County Bar activities.
The Council of Sections—the engine driving the reform movement which captured offices in 2016 and brought about the saving of LACBA from financial disaster (a movement in which Jo-Ann was a key player)—in 2019 endorsed Birkel for the post of trustee. (Seven of the nine persons it proposed for trustee positions were chosen by the Nominating Committee; the two who weren’t were Jo-Ann, who was instead selected as vice president, and Joel Goldman, then of Clark & Trevithick, the rejection of whom was plainly warranted. There was no contested election that year.) The council’s folly in sponsoring Birkel—one of only four slip-ups on its part, by my count—points to its need to become even more painstaking in its vetting process.
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