Wednesday, April 10, 2002
Federal Judge Rejects Arizona Lawyer’s Bid to Vote in California State Bar Board of Governors Election
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A federal judge in San Francisco yesterday soundly rejected a bid by Arizona attorney Louis Hoffman to win the right to vote in this year’s election for members of California’s State Bar Board of Governors.
Hoffman, an active member of both the California and Arizona state bars who practices in Phoenix, sued the State Bar of California in February and sought a preliminary injunction that would allow him to vote in the Board of Governors elections that begin later this month.
He claimed a State Bar rule that lawyers vote for board members by geographical district violated his right to select his representatives on the board. The districts cover only California.
In a victory for the State Bar, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong said Hoffman failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits and that the balance of hardships tips in favor of the State Bar. Armstrong also said Hoffman had demonstrated no constitutional violations.
Armstrong made the ruling from the bench after about an hour of oral argument.
Hoffman, who was not present in court, was represented by Boalt Hall School of Law Professor Stephen Barnett and San Francisco lawyers Ephraim Margolin and Arthur Brunwasser.
“It was completely against us,” Barnett said of the ruling.
He vowed to appeal, saying that “we think our position is correct and we hope that we’ll prevail.”
The State Bar was represented by San Francisco attorney James Wagstaffe of Kerr & Wagstaffe.
Wagstaffe said Armstrong was “following established law” and would be upheld on appeal.
At issue is the voting process for the Board of Governors, the 21-member panel that leads the State Bar. Several “public” members are appointed by the governor and leaders of the Legislature, but the majority are lawyers elected by their peers in districts around the state.
Each election year before voting commences, the State Bar certifies the voting eligibility rolls and assigns all active State Bar members to a district based on the location of each member’s principal office. Lawyers whose principal offices are located outside the state are not eligible to vote.
There are about 9,000 such lawyers, Wagstaffe said.
Hoffman said the rules violated his equal protection rights and also ran afoul of the First Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
But the State Bar argued that the Board of Governors is not a legislative body and is not covered by Supreme Court decisions vindicating voting rights. Instead, they said, it is an administrative body that operates the organization under the auspices of the state Supreme Court, which has final authority over the State Bar’s discipline system and other functions.
The state Supreme Court, Wagstaffe said, is the proper forum in which to challenge the board election procedures, along with the Legislature that creates the laws under which the board operates.
The lawyer also noted that Hoffman is not denied the right to elect his representatives.
“He gets to vote,” Wagstaffe said. “His voice is heard. In Arizona. Which by the way has the same voting procedures.”
California State Bar President Karen Nobumoto said she was pleased with the ruling and hoped that an election reform process in the works for several months would continue.
“I hope that Mr. Hoffman takes his suggestions and anyone else’s suggestions through the Elections Subcommittee,” Nobumoto said. “We are constantly trying to improve the State Bar.”
Elected board members serve three-year staggered terms. In the coming elections, in which balloting runs from April 30 to July 1, 15 candidates are running for eight posts on the board.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company