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From the President

The State Bar – future and past

By David J. Pasternak
President, the State Bar of California

David PasternakShould California continue to have a unified bar, as it has since 1927? Should the Board of Trustees include a majority of public members? Should any trustees continue to be elected, and if not, who should appoint the trustees?

How should the State Bar president and other officers be selected? What should be the State Bar president's term of office? Should there be a limitation on trustees' terms of office? If the State Bar is going to be restructured, which branch or branches of government have the authority to make such changes?

These are some of the intriguing issues facing the State Bar's Task Force on Governance in the Public Interest, which is a statutory body comprised of the president and six other trustees. The Governance Task Force, as it is generally known, is directed to issue a report to the Supreme Court, the Legislature and the governor addressing these and other structural issues regarding the operation and leadership of the State Bar.

By statute, the State Bar's mission is public protection. Thus, other key questions include whether efforts to increase access to justice and access to courts further that public protection mission and whether structural changes are necessary to further the State Bar's mission. Is the State Bar properly admitting and disciplining attorneys in order to ensure that they properly serve the residents of the State of California?

The Governance Task Force has already heard from various third parties, including the executive directors of two other state bars and California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. Additional public hearings are scheduled at the State Bar offices in San Francisco on April 4 and in Los Angeles on April 25. Both oral and written comments will be accepted, and the proceedings will be transcribed and posted on the State Bar website. The Governance Task Force has set an ambitious timetable and is attempting to complete its report for submission to the Board of Trustees for its July meeting.

It is important that the Governance Task Force receive input from all of the State Bar's many stakeholders about these significant questions. We have identified the questions. We need your help in determining the answers. I urge you and your organizations to submit written comments to the task force by the end of April, and to consider reserving time to provide comments at one of the two scheduled public hearings. Speaking in person enables a dialog that will further enlighten the task force about the issues.

The Governance Task Force is addressing the State Bar's future. The State Bar's past includes many distinguished attorneys who provided terrific public service as its former presidents and trustees.

Unfortunately, we recently lost one of those former presidents, Shelly Sloan of Los Angeles. Although Shelly and I differed in our respective political parties, we worked closely together for many years on many volunteer Los Angeles County Bar Association activities. Shelly always addressed all of his many interests and volunteer activities in good humor and with jest (and usually while completing a crossword puzzle). As we witness increasing national political partisanship and a refusal by many to engage in civil dialogue with others who do not share their views and beliefs, I am sorry that we do not have more leaders like Shelly, who unquestionably would have had valuable thoughts to offer about all of the issues now faced by the Governance Task Force.