Thursday, January 24, 2013

D.C. Bar: To Hell With Democracy

The District of Columbia Bar has amended its rules to ensure that only a "bar insider" can become its leader.

The announcement from the Bar web page:

The Bar’s Board of Governors has approved changes in the Bar’s By–laws to remove the office of president–elect from the list of positions for which individuals may be nominated by petition and to set the threshold requirement for petition candidacies for the remaining elected leadership positions at a percentage of the active membership instead of an absolute number.

In its memorandum originally proposing the changes to the Board, the Bar’s Leadership Development Committee described them as “consistent with the Bar’s core value of visionary leadership and the strategic plan’s objective to develop an organizational culture that produces outstanding leaders who are committed to making the D.C. Bar the national leader in the legal profession for professional excellence, preeminent programs, and exemplary public service.”

The Bar’s By–laws provide that the Bar’s Committee on Nominations puts forth the names of at least two and no more than three active members for the offices of president–elect, secretary, treasurer, and vacancies on the Board of Governors as well as vacant positions for delegates to the American Bar Association House of Delegates. With the changes, individuals who are not named by the Committee on Nominations for any position other than president–elect may be nominated by obtaining the signatures of at least one–half of one percent of the active membership of the Bar based on a census of the Bar as of the first business day in the calendar year in which the elections are held. As of January 2, 2013, the Bar’s active membership was 72,042, making this year’s petition threshold 361 signatures. Previously, petition candidates were required to obtain the signatures of 100 active members.

The By–law changes also clarified that petitions must be submitted in accordance with procedures established by the Board and must contain handwritten, legible signatures accompanied by the D.C. Bar member identification number of signers.

In the end, this is no big deal, as it does not really matter who serves as the D.C. Bar's President and an outsider has a snowball's chance in hell of actually getting elected. Bar leadership positions serve as a resume builder but have little impact on the direction of the Bar.

What makes this petty rule change passing strange is that, to my knowledge, no one has ever won the president-elect position by petition. How does foreclosing the possibility serve the interests of the members of this mandatory organization?

It strikes me that an undemocratic (small "d") rule change to shut out persons who dare to seek a leadership position without the blessing of the "Bar" sets a very poor example for a profession dedicated to fairness, equal access to justice and the rule of law.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe the "core value of visionary leadership" should embrace all members and not just the favored few. (Mike Frisch)

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I complained about this issue to the Court of Appeals. They were uninterested and ignored my arguments. Clearly, a democratic bar does not serve the interests of the judges.

The better solution would be for the Court to get out of the business of protecting their friends within the profession and just concentrate on fulfilling their disciplinary role.


Posted by: Stephen Williams | Jan 29, 2013 1:31:00 PM

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