Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Attorneys in the Legislature: All-Time Low Narrowly Missed

It took some time for the dust to clear - and, truth be told, it hasn't completely cleared yet.  But thanks to some surprising electoral and post-electoral developments, the number of attorneys elected to the 2013-2014 session of the California Legislature actually increased for the first time in many sessions.

Steve Fox
In fact, the surprising declaration weeks after the November 6 election that Lancaster solo practitioner (and school teacher) Steve Fox had overcome a 2,000+ vote election-day deficit to take 36th District seat in the state Assembly pushed the number of lawyers and law school graduates in the Legislature to 25 - one more than last session's lowest-in-modern-history 24. It also kicked the percentage of lawyers in the Legislature back over the 20% figure (20.8%).

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. 
Hannah-Beth Jackson
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.

Richard Bloom
Rob Bonta
As of this point, the state Assembly will boast only 14 attorney members for the 2013-14 session.  The bad news is that is the lowest number of attorneys to sit in the lower house in the past 40 years.  The good news is that it could have been much worse.  Like Fox, family lawyer Richard Bloom overcame an election night deficit in the 50th AD to apparently oust sitting lawmaker Betsy Butler.  And SF deputy city attorney Rob Bonta eked out a 1,400-vote win over another Democrat in the East Bay's 18th AD.  So we were very close to having as many attorneys (11) in the 80-member Assembly as in the 40-member Senate.

Brian Maienschein
Other new attorneys elected in November are:  small firm practitioner Ed Chau (49th AD), former legislative staffer Ken Cooley (8th AD), former deputy AG Al Muratsuchi (66th AD), small firm practitioner Mark Stone (29th AD) and law professor Brian Maienschien (77th AD).  Of the eight freshman attorneys elected to the Assembly, only Maienshein is a Republican.

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%
1971-72 56 46.67%
1979-89 22 27.50% 16 40.00% 38 31.67%
1989-90 17 21.25% 19 47.50% 36 30.00%
2001-02 18 22.50% 15 37.50% 33 27.50%
2007-08 18 22.50% 10 25.00% 28 23.33%
2009-10 16 20.00% 9 22.50% 25 28.83%
2011-12 15 18.75% 9 22.50% 24 20.00%
2013-14 14 17.50% 11 27.50% 25 20.83%

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.

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