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Schwarzenegger bashes California bar, blocks it from collecting dues

October 12, 2009 |  1:41 pm

Arnie Accusing the State Bar of California of being "overly political, unresponsive … and inefficient," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation Sunday that allows the legal association to collect its annual dues.

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger cited a recent audit critical of the bar and questioned the group's "impartiality in considering judicial appointments." The July audit found rising costs at the bar and poor internal controls, which allowed a former employee to embezzle nearly $676,000.

"The conduct of the State Bar itself must be above reproach," Schwarzenegger wrote in his veto. "Regrettably, it is not."

Bar President Howard Miller called the veto "regrettable," but also signaled a willingness to work with Schwarzenegger, calling his concerns "legitimate."

"Sometimes organizations suffering from inertia need an external jolt to renew themselves," Miller said. "We regret that it has come in this particular manner."

Part of the dust-up dates to Schwarzenegger's August appointment of conservative former state Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) to the state Court of Appeal. News leaked that that the bar's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation had rated Poochigian as "not qualified," the lowest of four possible rankings, before the governor had even made the appointment. The ranking was supposed to be confidential at the time.

While not citing the Poochigian incident explicitly, Schwarzenegger wrote in the veto message of SB 641 by Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) that "questions about the State Bar's role in the evaluation of judicial nominees suggest that the State Bar's political agenda continues."

Without the legislation, the bar can't collect its $410 dues from the active portion of its 223,000 members. In 1997, then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the bar's ability to collect dues, which resulted in mass layoffs for the bar association. The bar licenses and disciplines California lawyers.

Miller said the dues, which pay for "the core functions of the State Bar," amount to about $69 million annually. "Our first goal is to attempt to craft a possible compromise," he said.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento

Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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