Monday, March 4, 2002
Out-of-State California Lawyer Sues to Vote for State Bar Board
By NICK YULICO, Staff Writer
An Arizona attorney who is also licensed to practice in California filed a federal lawsuit against the State Bar Friday, seeking the right to vote and run in the State Bar’s upcoming Board of Governors elections.
Boalt Hall School of Law Prof. Stephen Barnett, who sued on behalf of attorney Louis Hoffman, told the METNEWS the policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment and possibly the Privileges and Immunities clause.
Under the state Business and Professions Code, only attorneys with “principal offices for the practice of law” in the state are able to run and vote in the elections.
The suit asks the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to issue a preliminary injunction against the State Bar, preventing it from enforcing the provisions of the statute.
Barnett called the law unfair as well as unconstitutional. He noted that out-of-state members pay the same duties, comply with the same MCLE requirements and bear all the other obligations as officers of the state, so should be able to vote as well.
State Bar President Karen Nobumoto said the organization’s legal staff has been meeting with the plaintiff’s attorneys “to try to discuss doing this through our Elections Committee.”
“We’ve been explaining to him that under the law we could not ignore an existing statute without a court declaring it unconstitutional,” Nobumoto said.
The State Bar president called the lawsuit “disheartening.”
“I really have made an effort to have an open-door policy for people to discuss issues,” she said. “I make every effort to return e-mails and calls promptly. We have had an ongoing discussion with Mr. Barnett over this. I hope that in the future, we can go through the process.”
Close to 10,000 State Bar members besides Hoffman have their offices located outside California.
The only difference between out-of-state and in-state members is the right to vote and run in the Board of Governors elections, the complaint said.
With no right to vote, it asserts, Hoffman is cut off from the decisionmaking process that governs the bar’s policies.
“I have no input, through the electoral system of governors, on decisions that affect me or my practice,” Hoffman said in the lawsuit.
Hoffman alleged that the suit was filed almost a year after he learned of the policy. He said he sent an email to then-President Palmer Madden, asking why he was barred from voting, but he received no reply.
Another letter was written to the State Bar’s publication, the California Bar Journal, asking the same question, and the letter was published in the April 2001 issue.
Hoffman claimed he then got a telephone from a State Bar staff person who told him the organization was bound by statute to preclude him from voting.
Nominating petitions for candidates in the Board of Governors election of 2002 were made available Feb. 1. The list of members eligible to vote will close on April 22, with the last day to vote being July 1.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company