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Frustrating Arizona Board of Governors Election Results

Ugh – What were people thinking?

Last week, the State Bar of Arizona announced the results of the Board of Governors election. This was a critical vote because the Board recently voted to increase our bar dues by $60/year despite receiving a report that this would result in the Bar having a cash surplus of $3.7 million by 2019. (This passed by one vote.) Prior to the vote on bar dues, Arizona already had one of the highest bar dues in the nation. (And we’re a mandatory bar, so you can’t be a licensed Arizona attorney unless you’re a member of the State Bar.)

Thirty-three people ran for the nine slots on Board for Maricopa County – eight of which were incumbents. I thought it was awesome that so many people were interested in making a difference in how the State Bar operates. I made my list of candidates whose actions and profile were compatible with how I wanted my State Bar to govern me.

Here are the nine people who won the election in Maricopa County:

  • Melissa Ho (Incumbent, Opposed the Increase)*
  • Lisa Loo (Incumbent, Voted For the Increase)
  • Geoffrey Trachtenberg (Incumbent, Opposed the Increase)*
  • Steven Hirsch
  • Samuel Saks (Incumbent, Opposed the Increase)*
  • David Derickson (Incumbent, Opposed the Increase)*
  • Diane Drain (Incumbent, Voted For the Increase)
  • Richard Coffinger (Incumbent, Opposed the Increase)
  • Jennifer Rebholz *

* = On my short list of candidates

"'nough said..." by Arnaud DG from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“‘nough said…” by Arnaud DG from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What is up with the power of the incumbency?! With thirty-three people running, I’m surprised that we’re only adding two new faces to the Board for Maricopa County. I seriously wonder how many people voted for people they liked vs people who supported their beliefs about how the State Bar should govern its members. Our Board has a history that lacks transparency and they voted to increase our dues that made no sense when they crunched the numbers.

I was pleased to read that we had the highest voter turnout ever for a Board of Governors’ election, but that statement is pretty pathetic when the State Bar announced that only 35% of eligible voters participated in the election. With ~12,000 attorneys in Maricopa County, that means 7,800 people didn’t vote. 7,800 people forfeited their right to bitch about how the Board operates until the next election.

This lack of participation suggests a lack of responsibility among our members, and that makes me sad and frustrating. We’re a self-regulating profession – why wouldn’t you vote when given a say in how we operate?

These results help me understand why some of my fellow legal eagles say that nothing’s ever going to change with the Board. But I hope that in the increase in voter  participation and the fact that a significant number of people who were elected are dedicated to transparency and fiscal responsibility are signs that change is possible and coming in the State Bar. I hope the next Board will have the power and pull they need to fix some of the mistakes previous Boards made and to be more dedicated to providing value to the State Bar’s members.

 

3 Comments

  1. mo hernandez says:

    Ruth
    Good points but I’d hoped for more than just a wing and a prayer that things ‘might’ change this time around. I still want to see the data, for instance, on how many ballots were returned vs votes cast; how many deadhead emails there were; and how many total online voting solicitations were confirmed sent. I also have a beef that out-of-state lawyers aren’t allowed to vote. To a different extent, I also believe it is unfair that inactive lawyers are also disenfranchised. (Any wonder that inactive lawyers pay the highest inactive fees in the country at $265 per year? Talk about getting screwed over with nary a chance to complain about it). Both groups are subject to the whims of the board’s actions but have no voice in electing representatives to the board. The rationale that because they are out-of-state and don’t align with a particular voting district just doesn’t wash as a valid justification for disenfranchisement. I not only think it is unfair but unlawful. As for inactives, so what that they pay about half of the full tariff than active lawyers. $265 per year is nothing to sneeze at just for the right to get an overpriced subscription to “Arizona Attorney” magazine.
    – Mo

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I wondered how it worked for out-of-state lawyers. I wonder if it would be better to let them decide which district they want to vote with for BoG instead of not giving them a vote at all.

  2. mo hernandez says:

    That is a good option to deal with the out-of-state lawyers. Alternatively, as another lawyer suggested to me, there could be an at-large governor seat for out-of-state and/or inactive lawyers (although I rue the idea of adding one more seat to the 30-member board, which is already way too big as it is!)

    There also appears to be case authority for the proposition that what the bar is doing is impermissible. See Lathrop v. Donohue, 367 U.S. 820, 844 (1961) and Supreme Court of New Hampshire v. Piper, 470 U.S. 274, 288 (1985) and also Frazier v. Heebe, 482 U.S. at 646-47

    – Mo