Something to Talk About

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The ABA Commission on Governance issued a draft of its recommendations in January in hopes of receiving feedback when the association’s leadership gathered a few weeks later at the 2005 midyear meeting.

And that’s exactly what the Governance Commission got in Salt Lake City, both at its own packed hearing and at other informal sessions with ABA leadership groups.

Governance Commission Chair William H. Neukom of Seattle said it was no surprise to receive so much detailed comment on the draft proposals.

“This is exactly what you would expect from careful, concerned lawyers,” Neukom observed during a meeting of the Conference of State Delegates that gave the commission’s proposals a thorough review–and where a number of them were given a thumbs-down.

Neukom emphasized that the commission will review comments on its preliminary recommendations over the next several weeks as it works to hone them into final form before submitting them for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates in August during the annual meeting in Chicago.

According to Neukom, one of the primary goals of the commission’s proposals is to open the ABA’s leadership structure to a wider array of association members.

These are some key preliminary recommendations:

• House of Delegates (sets ABA policy): Impose length-of-service limits on all delegates to two consecutive three-year terms (none exist at this time); apply a formula that will add more young lawyers to many state delegations.

• Board of Governors (directs ongoing ABA operations): Increase the number of section representatives from six to nine; remove the immediate-past president as an ex-officio member. The changes would increase the size of the Board from 37 to 39 members.

• Nominating Committee (selects candidates for ABA president, other officer positions and the Board): Increase the number of section representatives from seven to 13, bringing the committee to 73 members, from 67; limit all members to two consecutive three-year terms; eliminate sunset provision for the seats designated for women and minorities (three each).

In addition, the Governance Commission is recom­mend­ing that, after 2008, a member may serve in only one of the ABA’s officer positions–president, House of Delegates chair, treasurer or secretary. It has become common in recent years for House chairs to later run for president.

The commission also is recommending that the terms of treasurer and secretary be reduced from three to two years, and that the positions of treasurer-elect and secretary-elect be eliminated.

Recipe for Compromise

Based on the comments of the 28 people who testified at the hearing in Salt Lake City, there appears to be some item or other on the Governance Commission’s menu for just about every interest in the ABA to dislike.

At the same time, however, many of those testifying before the commission expressed a commitment to avoiding the contentious debate over governance that took place in 1995, when the sections made a concerted push to gain more representation in the ABA’s leadership bodies. Those efforts largely failed because the sections were unable to muster enough support to gain the two-thirds vote majorities necessary in the House to approve amendments to the ABA Constitution.

Some cited the results of the commission’s own survey of ABA leaders to bolster their argument that any changes in the governance structure should be minimal.

“There is not any kind of a groundswell for making a change, at least nothing sweeping,” said Kermit E. Bye, a federal appellate court judge in Fargo, N.D., who chairs the Governance Committee for the Conference of State Delegates. At the same time, Bye said, “Is there some middle ground” on the commission’s recommendations? “I think there is.”

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