How the State Bar of California (ab)uses my money

In order to practice as a lawyer in California, I am required to pay approximately $500 every year to the State Bar of California.  The Bar’s ostensible purpose is to serve as a bulwark between innocent consumers and potentially shady lawyers.  It establishes the knowledge standards that attorneys must meet in order to be licensed (that would be the bar exam), mandates continuing legal education, and polices attorneys who violate their professional responsiblities.  Barring the continuing legal education (which is, in my opinion, a scam), these are reasonable goals and it is appropriate that lawyers police themselves in this regard.

However, the State Bar actually goes far beyond this reasonable consumer mandate and, unsurprisingly given inevitable bureaucratic overreach, routinely inserts itself into political matters.  Today’s insertion comes via the California Lawyer magazine, a monthly liberal glossy publication for which I pay simply by virtue of having the money sucked out of my bar dues.  Just today, I got the March edition of California Lawyer proudly announcing its CLAY awards (California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year).  I had no say in the vote, of course.  The winners are chosen by acclaim from the magazine’s staff. I don’t think it’s too much to say that the California Lawyer staff, using my dollars, showed a marked political bias in its selections.

Some examples:

The magazine gave awards to Stephen Berzon, James Finberg and Jonathan Weissglass for their successful efforts, in the magazine’s words, to “beat back four attempts to undermine voting rights in three states during the 2008 national election.”  What rights did they preserve, you ask?  They (1) preserved the right in Ohio to vote and register on the same day, which undoubtedly enabled ACORN-fomented voter fraud on a scale too vast to contemplate; (2) rebuffed a Republican request that the Ohio secretary of state enable the GOP to compare voter registration to DMV records so as to check for fraud; and (3) stopped Colorado from purging the voter rolls of more than 30,000 duplicate names.  As to this last, considering that these award-winning attorneys were representing the Service Employees International Union, Common Cause, and Mi Familia Vota, I leave it to your imagine to figure out which party benefitted from the probability that these were duplicative registrations.  It does my heart good to know that my mandatory dues were used to honor these friends of ACORN.

The magazine honored Shannon Minter and Therese Stewart, the attorneys who successfully convinced the California Supreme Court to mandate gay marriage in California.  It does not seem to occur to the magazine that 54% of Californians, which might approximate to about 54% of State Bar members who pay the dues that pay the salaries for the magazine employees, believe that marriage should, in fact, be between a man and a woman.  (Incidentally, tomorrow the California Supreme Court will examine whether 54% of California voters are allowed to amend their own Constitution.  Should be interesting.)

The magazine gave an award to Patrik Griego, a lawyer who won a $1 million class action on behalf of flower pickers who were denied overtime.  It sounds like righteous work, except for the fact that this plaintiff class had a little problem:  “many of [them] were undocumented.”  Translate that out of soothing metaphor and it means that our judicial system award beaucoup bucks to illegal aliens.  I’m all for legal immigration but, as you know, I’m extremely hostile to illegal immigration, and I resent it that these law breakers obtaining monetary benefits from our legal system.  Nevertheless, courtesy of the State Bar, my money’s still being used to honor this guy.

The magazine also gave its CLAY award to Richard Drury and James Wheaton, who forced school bus companies to reduce emissions from school buses.  How very green of them.  We can barely afford to pay our teachers (according to the unions), but our school districts have to find the money to pay for green buses.  I’m glad the bar used my money to honor the lawyers who managed simultaneously to clean up the buses and impoverish the schools.

Speaking of using my money to honor people who are burning my money, the magazine that I am forced to support also issued an award to Mary Nichols, who is chairman “of the powerful state air-pollution board.”  Under her aegis, the board “adopted what appears to be the most sweeping set of requirements in the nation for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases.”  I’m sure everyone will be very proud of her when California’s business base collapses, including those lawyers who suddenly have no clients anymore.

My last example is the fact that the magazine gave awards to Stacy Horth-Neubert and Jason Russell who successfully worked to keep race a factor in California schools.  Despite the fact that Californians overwhelmingly supported Prop. 209, which prohibits racial and ethnic preferences in public education, these two enabled the ACLU to argue that the voters didn’t really mean what they said, at least when it came to bad schools in the LA Unified School District.  For the foreseeable future, white and asian kids trapped in that hell hole of an education system that is the LAUSD don’t get the same chance as black and hispanic kids.  Thanks, State Bar, for using my money to applaud a system both I and California voters reject.

On the good side, the magazine did honor John F. Daum and Charles Lifland, who successfully argued to the Calfiornia Supreme Court for a reduction of punitive damages against Exxon Mobil following 1989’s Exxon Valdez case.  Out-of-control punitives destroy businesses, and it’s very good news that the California Supreme Court is showing common sense in this direction.  However, lest the magazine be accused of rampant conservativism, it also honored the attorney for the other side, who argued for unlimited punitive damages.

Also, almost grudgingly, the magazine honored Robert Mittelstaedt, who successfully defended Chevron against charges that it was liable to riots at one of its facilities in Nigeria.  The magazine appears stunned by Mittelstaedt’s success, characterizing it as a “remarkable victory” (apparently magazine workers thought it would have been infinitely more reasonable for Chevron to have lost).

Lastly (and it was the last award on the list), the magazine honored Stanley Levy who spear-headed the creation of an organization to help Jews who were used as Nazi slave labor to obtain money from a fund that the German government specifically set up to pay such laborers.  In other words, Levy worked as a facilitator to help people deal with the labyrinth of German legal procedures, in order to obtain funds to which they were already entitled.  Sounds good to me, and sounds like a non-political goal worthy of a legal honor.  Kudos to the magazine for using my money for at least one righteous award.

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  • Charles Martel

    Well, Book, we may have to amend Shakespeare to say, instead of “First, let’s kill all the lawyers,” “First, let’s kill all of the bar association hacks.”

  • Deana

    Out of curiousity, Bookworm, what do you not like about CLE?

    Years ago, right after I graduated from college, I worked as a paralegal for several years. The attorneys would go to CLEs that were in their own field . . . and not really pay attention. And those were the days BEFORE ubiquitous cell phone, lap top, hand-held device use.

    Also, I wasn’t sure how much information the attorneys were actually absorbing. I mean, presentations were given and material was handed out but did they use the information to change their practice? I don’t know.

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  • Danny Lemieux

    ABA…it’s really just another union, isn’t it?

  • Ymarsakar

    Union, AKA Nigerian scam ; )