Tuesday, May 7, 2002
State Bar Moves Toward Splitting With Conference of Delegates
By NAZANIN AGANGE, Staff Writer
The State Bar Board of Governors on Saturday took a major step toward spinning off the Conference of Delegates as a separate nonprofit organization, but resolved to continue joint annual meetings and to assist the conference in collecting donations.
The board motion calls upon the Legislature to permit the conference to incorporate as a separate entity.
Calling it a “maturing” relationship rather than a divorce, Board of Governors member Robert Persons argued that the conference is still an important part of the State Bar. He said the State Bar should want “the conference to be independent” but not “push them out to sink.”
The conference has a 70-year—often controversial—history with the State Bar. Delegates, who are appointed by voluntary local bar associations, prepare resolutions they hope to lobby in the Legislature.
Positions the Conference of Delegates advocated were sometimes considered beyond the acceptable scope of State Bar politics, or “purview.”
Representatives of the conference and the Board of Governors decided at their Jan. 26 meeting to begin a formal split.
A Task Force on the Conference of Delegates made a series of recommendations, including the State Bar’s acknowledgment of the conference under a new name, the State Bar’s continued collection of voluntary donations for the conference, and a continued discussion of revenue sharing from the joint annual meeting. The task force also decided the conference would establish a purview independent of the State Bar’s.
Patrick Dixon, who termed the split “a parting of ways” rather than a coming of age or a divorce, questioned why the bar should continue collecting the conference’s fees.
Stephen Marsh, Conference of Delegates chair and a Task Force representative, said that without the State Bar’s support the conference “may cease to exist.”
Marsh called the conference “valuable” and pointed to the affirmation of that value from unlikely sources.
“Even [former Gov. Pete] Wilson seemed to find it valuable,” Marsh argued. Wilson, known for his opposition to the State Bar, signed “a large number of resolutions that originated in the conference” into law, Marsh said.
In order to have the split considered by this year’s legislation and have the change reflected on the 2003 member fee statement, the motion needed to pass at this meeting.
The resolution calls for the relationship to be reconsidered and the practical application of the split to be assessed in a year.
The Board of Governors on Saturday also declined to file an amicus brief in the appeal of Viner v. Sweet.
In Viner, Michael Viner and Deborah Raffin Viner sued their lawyer, Charles A. Sweet, for negligence in handling their contract negotiations in selling Dove Audio, which the Viners had founded in 1984.
In prior malpractice cases, establishing negligence required proof that the outcome would have been better if not for the attorney’s actions. In Viner, this threshold was eliminated in transactional malpractice cases where only negotiation is involved.
The case was originally decided in favor of the Viners, who were awarded over $13 million. The California Court of Appeal upheld the decision, but reduced the award to approximately $8 million.
The case is pending in the California Supreme Court, which agreed late last year to grant review.
Debate on the resolutions centered on State Bar policy and purview.
Some, like Long Beach attorney and board member Matthew Cavanaugh, argued that the ruling seriously affected attorney-client relationship. Cavanaugh said it was the board’s duty to file in the interest of attorneys who were being held to a “grossly disproportionate” standard compared to other professionals who negotiated contracts.
Scott McNutt, a board member, said that there was “no middle ground” and the bar should take a side.
“The policy dimensions are not crystal clear, it’s a voluntary policy,” McNutt said. “I think it’s important to take a position.”
Another member of the board, Carl A. Lindstrom, Jr. argued that the board should “assert ourselves as leaders on this issue” and called it a “unique opportunity.”
Board of Governors member, Los Angeles attorney John Van de Kamp said he did not feel it was within the scope of board’s policy. He supported filing a brief asking for a clear “uniform standard.”
“The important thing is that the Supreme Court decides the issue,” Van de Kamp said.
Chantall Walker, an appointed member of the Board of Governors, agreed, asking “why should we go out on a limb on this issue?”
Board member Jim Herman concluded that the “debate should be left in the hands of specialty bars and the Supreme Court.”
The Board of Governors defeated the motion to file a brief requesting the court to clarify the law. A resolution to file a brief taking Sweet’s side was also considered and defeated.
State Bar General Counsel Marie Moffet said that specialty bars and local bars such as the Los Angeles and Orange County Bar Associations are filing briefs in the case.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company