Of course, the number will drop again to 24 almost immediately, as soon as Congressman-elect Juan Vargas resigns his current seat in the state Senate. But the percentage won't dip immediately below the 20% mark because - with Congresswoman-elect Gloria Negrete-McLeod also leaving the Senate, there will be only 118 legislators until special elections are held (and maybe months longer, assuming that the vacant Senate seats will be filled by current Assembly members).
For the moment, however, the trend is positive for those who believe that experience in the practice of law - or at least a legal education - and an experience-based appreciation for the value of our justice system is a good thing for legislators to have.
|General Richard Roth|
Until Vargas leaves, the Senate will have 11 legally-educated members, the most in a decade. This includes seven returning members (President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Ellen Corbett, Lou Correa, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Noreen Evans, Ted Lieu, Curren Price, and Vargas), two members moving directly from the Assembly (law professor Marty Block in the 39th SD and mediator Bill Monning in the 17th), one former Assemblymember making her return after several years in private practice (Hannah-Beth Jackson in the 19th SD), and one brand-new lawyer member (employment lawyer and Major General Richard Roth in the 31st SD).
Another significant thing about the Senate lawyers is that all are Democrats. For the first time in at least the past 40 years - and probably ever - not a single Republican lawyer sits in the state Senate.
These eight will join six veteran legislative attorneys: Luis Alejo (30th AD), Roger Dickinson (7th AD), Mike Gatto (43rd), Jeff Gorell (44th AD), Don Wagner (68th), and Bob Wieckowski (25th AD). Wieckowski and Wagner are the Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively, of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Only one lawyer-lawmaker who sought to return to office failed in the endeavor (former Assemblymember Mike Allen of Santa Rosa, who was re-districted out of his former seat).
Only Wagner and Gorell - who spent the first year-and-a-half of his legislative career serving his county as a Lt. Commander (intelligence officer) in the United States Navy Reserve in Afghanistan - are Republicans, leaving the split in the Assembly at 11 Democrats and only 3 Republicans. That makes the overall split in both houses of the Legislature 22 Democrats and 3 Republicans - an 88-12% split in favor of the Democrats.
The following table shows the decline in attorney members of the state Legislature since the 1971-72 session, when nearly half (46.67%) of the state's lawmakers were members of the legal profession.
|Session||Assembly Lawyers||A%||Senate Lawyers||S%||Total Lawyers in Both Houses||T%|
Although the current lawyer membership is almost as low as it has ever been, there are positive signs. First, the number does represent an increase over last session's nadir. And, second, the number of attorneys running for office is on the upswing; in addition to those who were successful in their races, eleven more tried for office and failed. For those who believe lawyers are generally equipped to make the best lawmakers, that is a very positive sign.