Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interlude 15A. Axe the State Bar to Save the Profession

Every act of oppression or hypocrisy creates an equal and opposite reaction. The California State Bar's abuse of power and general ethical phoniness has helped demagogues further attack the legal profession's independence. Hitching its fate to a corrupt police agency, the legal profession has increased its vulnerability to denigration and imposition by the political powers

Governor Schwarzenegger's and Chief Justice George's recriminations against the Commission for Judicial Nominees Evaluation threaten lawyers' right to an independent professional viewpoint and show how independence is further threatened as long as the State Bar is professional expression's vehicle. Schwarzenegger, using a Court of Appeal judgeship as but another patronage award, nominated former State Senator Chuck Poochigian for the California Court of Appeal. The Commission for Judicial Nominees Evaluation, appointed by the State Bar's Board of Governors to conduct confidential interviews to assist in the evaluation of judge appointments, gave Poochigian its lowest rating, "Not Qualified," accurately describing Poochigian. Poochigian has no experience serving as a neutral arbiter, instead having specialized in advising politicians on further politicizing judicial appointments. According to Commission standards, Court of Appeal candidates are expected to have the qualities of collegiality, writing ability, and scholarship. Poochigian has never demonstrated scholarly capacities.

When Schwarzenegger vetoed the State Bar's appropriations, he also complained about the impartiality of the Commission for Judicial Nominees Evaluation. Schwarzenegger is not obligated to follow the recommendations, but he seeks to use budgetary threats to pressure the profession to conform politically, to pretend that legal scholarship and judicial temperament are irrelevant to Court of Appeal appointments and, if it suits the governor's purposes, any politician with a law degree merits judicial appointment. Chief Justice Ronald George chimed in his support, even though the Commission reports to neither the Chief Justice nor the Governor.

A presiding Court of Appeal judge conveyed a similarly threatening message when he tried to humble the Commission for Judicial Nominees Evaluation. Justice J. Anthony Kline admonished Jonathan Wolff, chair of the Commission after it rated nominee Kathleen Banke as merely "Qualified." Justice Kline in passing on Banke's nomination characterized the Commission's opinion of Banke as "bull crap." To those who value the independence of the legal profession, these examples of overreaching by the Governor and the judges prove that the profession's independence is at odds with the profession's subordination to the official state-bar police agency. If the State Bar is allowed to limp on, no doubt the politicians' squelching of independent professional judgment will succeed. The politicians and the state will compel the profession to proclaim every Poochigian a competent judge on the say so of the governor and Chief Justice.

Hold Schwarzenegger to axing the Bar because, otherwise, the likes of Schwarzenegger and George will control the profession.

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