October 2011 - Cast Your Vote to Ensure a Vital and Representative Board
by John Hueston
The OCBA continues to reinvent itself in order to reflect our changing membership needs. This year, we have launched the Masters Division in order to host the first countywide elite practice and mentoring group. With our new Entertainment, Sports and Marketing Section, we also have created the county’s first bar group to focus on these emerging and dynamic practice areas. To encourage greater participation by government and nonprofit attorneys, we additionally initiated substantial fee reductions for those attorneys. I now turn to you to cast your vote to change our election process to ensure that our most qualified board candidates may continue to serve you in the coming years.
Over the course of the last ten years, we have worked to ensure that your board reflects the diversity of the OCBA membership itself. Thanks to efforts initiated under former president Dean Zipser, the board was reduced from an unwieldy average size of 37 that included numerous mandatory and unelected representatives. The new OCBA board of 25 representatives proved more conducive to constructive dialogue. Subsequently implemented term limits ensured that this smaller board would continue to evolve and cultivate an annual infusion of fresh ideas. To include qualified but lesser known candidates, the board now annually appoints eight directors. For instance, we have recently used the appointment process to bring in-house counsel onto the OCBA board for the first time in years.
Today’s OCBA board reflects the diversity of its membership: approximately half practice in small law firms, twenty percent hail from larger firms (20 attorneys or more), with the remainder divided equally among solo practitioners, in-house attorneys and government attorneys. Approximately half the board is female and one-third is non-Caucasian.
But the OCBA board election process retains an anachronism: five elected district directors from five historic municipal court districts in Orange County. Existing bylaws mandate that a candidate may run for a “district” seat only if the candidate resides in that district. Only voters in the same district are eligible to vote for a district candidate.
In comparison, only six seats are open to “at large” candidates regardless of practice location. These candidates compete for votes from the entire OCBA membership.
Each year for the past several years, the OCBA has received a minimum of three to four applications from highly qualified candidates for every open at large board seat. In stark contrast, district seats sometimes attract only a single candidate. Because the OCBA strives to provide two potential candidates for every open seat, we often must recruit a second candidate for a district seat and then make very difficult choices about whom to drop from the ballot for at large seats. This year, the problem of winnowing the talented at large pool resulted in an unprecedented decision to permit three candidates for every at large board seat.
It is time to end this electoral disparity. Your ballot this year will list not only the six candidates competing for two at large board seats, but also an OCBA bylaws amendment to terminate district seats in favor of at large positions. The OCBA board voted unanimously for this change because it recognized the competitive unfairness in the existing process and the board’s inherent authority to ensure geographic diversity if necessary through the appointment process. But the required election bylaw change must be supported by a majority vote of the OCBA membership. Please vote “yes” for the bylaw change on your election ballot this year. I am confident that you will be rewarded with a new process that will ensure your representation by the most qualified candidates from throughout Orange County.
John Hueston is 2011 President of the Orange County Bar Association and a partner with Irell & Manella LLP specializing in white collar criminal defense and business trials. He can be reached at email@example.com.