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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

State Bar redistricting effort will get more study

By Nancy McCarthy
Staff Writer

A committee of the State Bar board rejected a proposal last month to seek legislative approval to add three more members to their ranks as a way to give more attorneys a voice in the bar. The debate left one governor feeling excluded and another observing that the issue is of virtually no interest to members, and showed a reluctance to approach Sacramento with any bar-related issues.

“This is a bad time to go to them to ask for anything involving the bar,” warned Laura Chick, a public member who serves as the state’s federal stimulus czar.

Added Gwen Moore, a public member who served 16 years in the Assembly: “I’d be very cautious about going to the legislature. It could open a can of worms.”

The proposal to increase the number of elected attorneys on the board of governors from 15 to 18 was part of a redistricting effort that is supposed to happen every 10 years. The bar’s nine districts have each retained the same number of representatives since 1990, when the bar had 126,000 members. There are now 226,000 licensed attorneys in California, with particularly large increases in districts 8 (Orange County) and 9 (San Diego and Imperial counties).

Los Angeles is still home to the largest number of lawyers in the state, and although District 1, including 19 counties in northern California has the lowest number, it is statutorily protected from change.

Los Angeles attorney Pat Kelly, who headed a five-person redistricting panel, said the group had a tough time coming up with an equitable distribution of representation. “It was a very complicated process and we couldn’t come up with a single solution that satisfied everyone,” he said. “Somebody’s ox is going to get gored no matter what you do.”

The committee’s recommendation, opposed by Fresno governor Lowell Carruth, would have shifted the boundaries of four districts, left intact Districts 1, 4 (Marin and San Francisco) and 7 (Los Angeles), while adding one governor each to districts 3, 8 and 9. The latter two districts would be expanded to include two more counties each and district 3 would add Sonoma to the four Bay Area counties that currently make up the district.

Michael Tenenbaum, representing District 6, suggested the mere idea of redistricting is “a very inside baseball discussion” with interest that “drops off precipitously outside this board.” In the age of computers, Internet and Blackberrys, geographic proximity is not important, he said, and he called the idea of proportional representation “an illusion.”

“As a practical matter, that’s not how it works,” Tenenbaum said. “You can count on your hands and toes how many people come to us” with concerns.

Paul Kramer, representing Sacramento, said he favored enfranchising inactive and out-of-state members, and San Francisco governor Jon Streeter said the notion of an improved attorney-to-governor ratio is a flawed linchpin for analyzing representation. “To try to be unduly precise is a huge mistake,” Streeter said.

In unusually blunt criticism, Carruth complained he was “ostracized” from the committee’s deliberations because he opposed seeking a legislative change from the outset.

In the end, the board’s operations committee, tasked with considering redistricting, rejected any approach that requires legislative input and agreed to study the question more.