Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Nobumoto, Conference Vow Talks to Study Relationship, Independence
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The independence of the Conference of Delegates from the State Bar of California took center stage at the bar’s 2001 annual meeting as new President Karen Nobumoto vowed to study the relationship between the groups and the conference modified a resolution calling for a more formal split.
“You matter to the bar,” Nobumoto told delegates after taking her presidential oath Saturday. “You matter to the Board of Governors. You battled through our difficult times, the issues of financing, and sit here today forging forward with the important work that you do.”
Nobumoto said she would make good on a promise to chair a task force to explore how the conference could stay a member of the State Bar family while still enjoying the freedom of debate that members enjoyed before the 1980s.
At issue is the question of “purview”—the code word bar leaders use to describe controversial changes in the law that the delegates sometimes seek, to the anger of some legislators and State Bar members.
Most statutory changes sought by the Conference of Delegates pertain to the mechanics of law practice and the administration of justice, but some also touch on thorny political issues. Lawsuits by State Bar members who said their money was being used to lobby for positions they disagreed with led to court-ordered limits on positions the conference could take.
Still, then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed funding authorization for the State Bar in 1997 in large part because of the conference’s liberal stance on several hot-button issues, such as the death penalty.
The crisis that ensued led to an end to funding for the conference, which is now paid for entirely by donations.
But longtime conference members said after Nobumoto’s speech they have suffered the burdens, without enjoying the fruits, of independence. The Lawyers’ Club of San Francisco introduced a resolution that, in its original form, would have sought a clean break between the conference and the State Bar.
“The Conference of Delegates is no longer funded by mandatory fees, but the [State Bar Board of Governors] insists on telling the conference which resolutions it should or should not debate,” Bar Association of San Francisco member Scott Gardner said.
Gardner complained that the board has instructed the conference not to use its own lobbyists to urge legislative action on some measures, in large part because of fear that lawmakers will mistakenly attribute a controversial position taken by the conference to the State Bar, and again launch a campaign to end funding.
After last year’s conference, Gardner said, the State Bar rejected conference positions on penalties for marijuana possession and prostitution.
“We should be able to work with the State Bar to get them out of our business,” Gardner said.
The debate grew more heated as an amendment was introduced that toned down the language of the original proposal and instead called for the conference to work with Nobumoto to arrive at a solution.
“What I would like to do right now is to pull out of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict we are having right here,” former conference chair Matthew St. George said. “We are all honorable people. We are all doing the best we can to keep the bar alive, and the bar is dying.”
The conference ultimately adopted the more moderate language, despite the warning of former chair Leon Goldin, who predicted that the same debate would surface a year from now.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company