Friday, September 20, 2002
New State Bar-Conference Relationship Final as Board Approves Contract
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar Board of Governors yesterday signed on to a five-year contract with the new Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations, cementing a new relationship between the mandatory licensing organization and the volunteer group that debates and proposes new legislation.
The memorandum of understanding was adopted the day before by the executive board of the Conference of Delegates—the 68-year-old group that is to meet for the last time in Monterey in October. At the close of the conference’s proceedings, the CDCBA—already incorporated as a separate nonprofit entity—will take over the old conference’s functions.
“This really is a great moment,” State Bar President Karen Nobumoto said after the Board of Governors unanimously adopted the contract. “Even I didn’t know how we were going to pull it off.”
Nobumoto made a new relationship between the Conference of Delegates and the State Bar a top priority when she took over as president a year ago. The relationship had become increasingly tense as State Bar leaders branded actions by the conference as political and blamed them for hostility in Sacramento to all State Bar actions. The conference, meanwhile, chafed under increasingly tight “purview” restrictions imposed by the State Bar.
The problems began with a series of lawsuits brought by lawyers unhappy that their mandatory dues money was being used for the conference to lobby for bills they considered partisan, and not necessarily in the best interests of the legal profession.
The suits resulted in court rulings that allowed lawyers to deduct the portion of their dues deemed to be spent on political lobbying.
But that was not enough for some members of the Legislature, or for then-Gov. Pete Wilson, who vetoed a dues authorization bill in 1997 and virtually shut down the State Bar for a year.
After the dust settled, the Conference of Delegates ceased to be supported by mandatory dues money.
But State Bar officials kept a closer watch than ever, concerned that any perception that the conference was acting politically could again spur a shut-down.
The first meeting of a task force set up by Nobumoto to address the problem ended with little hope of resolution. But a second session, early this year in Los Angeles, produced rapid agreement that the two entities had to separate.
The Legislature authorized the move earlier this year, and the new CDCBA incorporated June 11.
The contract between the two groups carries a five-year term to allow planners to reserve space for the annual meeting in advance. It was the shut-down of nearly five years ago that delayed reservation of meeting space this year, bar leaders said, and required moving the Monterey annual meeting to Oct,10-13—about a month later than usual.
But the agreement also includes a mutual one-year opt-out clause.
The contract calls for the State Bar to collect optional dues for the conference, commits to sharing the annual meeting, and requires the new conference to pay for staffing, support and other services it gets from the State Bar.
The Board of Governors yesterday also agreed to put out for public comment amendments to State Bar elections rules. If adopted the rules would for the first time provide for recounts in close races.
The rule was proposed in part in response to a request for board candidate Matthew St. George, who lost a close race earlier this year and discovered that the State Bar has no provisions for recalls. The State Bar said a recount would cost $14,000.
An elections task force study considered a rule similar to one in effect in Georgia, where the State Bar pays for recounts in certain circumstances. The language circulated for comment does not include the Georgia rule, but instead proposes an analogy to the California Elections Code—the requesting candidate would deposit the money, but would get it back if the recount showed a difference in the outcome.
The proposed amended rules would also allow the board to keep a seat vacant until the next regularly scheduled board election.
The board this year lost two members after their appointment to the bench. Special elections to fill the seats cost about $20,000 each, State Bar officials said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company