Tuesday, October 15, 2002
State Bar President Herman Vows 2002-2003 Will Be ‘Year of Pride’
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara lawyer James Herman on Saturday asked California attorneys to help him make his term as State Bar president a “year of pride” by educating the public on lawyers’ good works, promoting member services, and visiting bar groups throughout the state.
Herman told several hundred lawyers gathered in a Monterey hotel ballroom for his inauguration that after three years of “looking inward” to recover from a period of turmoil, the organization had successfully rebuilt itself and was ready to move on.
“With governance in place, this is the year to look outward,” Herman said. “A year to instill pride in the third branch of government, the legal profession and the State Bar of California.”
Herman spoke at the 75th anniversary meeting of the State Bar, an organization that for more than a decade has faced a seemingly relentless barrage of criticism from outside and within as the esteem of the legal profession continues to fall and as economic pressures on practitioners mount.
In recent months, the State Bar’s governing board adopted a new governance model and signed off on an agreement that spun off the often-controversial Conference of Delegates—moves that supporters say are the final steps in bringing the organization out of a crisis mode brought on by then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s veto of dues authorization in 1997.
But controversy persists. A small gathering of picketers protesting legal fees—and promoting a radio talk show—clustered outside the hotels that hosted the various educational and organizational meetings.
Meanwhile, some bar leaders expressed outrage over an opinion article in the San Francisco Recorder Friday in which Los Angeles Board of Governors member and State Bar critic Matthew Cavanaugh questioned the degree to which the Conference of Delegates was truly separated from the portion of the State Bar funded by each lawyer’s mandatory $390 in dues.
Cavanaugh also criticized the money the State Bar spent on the annual meeting, and called for the election of more critics to the board.
Herman’s speech—and other ceremonial events, including the inauguration of new Board of Governors members and the annual State of the Judiciary address by Chief Justice Ronald George—took place not at the Marriott or Doubletree hotels, where most of the State Bar events took place but, in accord with tradition, across town at the Hyatt, on the floor of the Conference of Delegates.
It is officially the last year in which the 68-year-old conference meets under the umbrella of the State Bar. But next year, this time by contractual arrangement, the State Bar and the Conference of Delegates will again meet at the same time and place, and the inauguration of the new president and the address by the chief justice will again take place on the conference floor.
Cavanaugh said State Bar members should question the continuing links between the groups and the amount of mandatory dues money he said attorneys end up paying to support the annual meeting.
Herman addressed Cavanaugh’s criticisms Sunday, at an unusually lengthy organizational meeting of the new board.
Straying from the brief agenda, Herman asked each member of the board to say in a few words why they became active in the State Bar. As the discussion proceeded around the conference table, each statement grew longer than the one before, with board members recounting often surprising stories of what led them to become involved.
Carl Lindstrom of San Jose said he became active because, as a Filipino, he found that minorities often were unable to access legal services.
Judith Copeland of San Diego recounted being shut out of a male-dominated profession, including from bar groups that met at male-only establishments. She told of annual local bar dinners at which women paralegals would dress as Playboy bunnies—and how she and her female attorney colleagues shook things up one year by coming dressed in full head-to-toe, fur-and-ears rabbit suits.
Anthony Capozzi of Fresno spoke of how he ran for mayor but was defeated in the final days when his opponent ran an ad reminding voters that everyone makes choices in life, and that Capozzi had made the questionable choice of deciding to become an attorney.
After the defeat, Capozzi said he remained proud of his choice of profession.
“If I died and came back I’d be a lawyer again,” he said.
He also asserted that he had been very “anti-bar,” but that he was won over by “the dedication of staff and how much they really do.”
When Cavanaugh had his turn, he declined to detail his complaints against the State Bar “or we’d be here all day.”
But he asserted that the State Bar has become “almost completely irrelevant to the ordinary member,” and that “politics and ideology” should be left to local bar associations—an apparent reference to State Bar programs to improve access to the profession for minorities and access to the courts and other justice institutions for the poor.
“I think your ideas are important,” Herman told Cavanaugh. But he added that he hoped to “see a switch in polarity,” with Cavanaugh taking a more positive approach to critiquing the State Bar.
“I think you have something to offer us,” Herman told Cavanaugh. “I think you are a resource to us. I want to keep that resource.”
At the organizational board meeting, as in his inaugural speech, Herman said he hoped to focus on outreach and increased financial support for the State Bar sections and for the California Young Lawyers Association, components of the State Bar that suffered a cut-off of funding much as the conference did in the years following the dues bill veto.
But he continually returned to the theme of pride in the profession.
“This is a year of pride and I’m proud of you,” Herman said in his Saturday address. “I am proud of a membership that takes care of its own bad apples at no cost to the public, serves on every volunteer board in every community in the state, provides countless hours of pro bono work every year and contributes in time and money to improving the profession.”
For most lawyers who attended the annual meeting, the highlight was the dozens of continuing legal education courses offered.
Texas newspaper columnist Molly Ivins had her capacity audience at the California Women Lawyers dinner on Thursday laughing uproariously as she poked fun at President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and her own state’s legislature.
Laughter is necessary, she said, “so we can live longer and fight harder.”
Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary and ex-New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo told lawyers at a State Bar luncheon that his experience taught him that government needed to be shaken up—and that attorneys were the ones to do it.
“It is up to you,” he said. “You are attorneys. You have the tools. You have the skills. You can change the world.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company