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Just in time for the State Bar’s annual meeting, Gov. Gray Davis this week signed a bill allowing the Conference of Delegates to transform into a nonprofit political group. The move is the last step in a long effort to divorce the Bar and the conference — which has been the target of critics for its positions on political issues. In 1997, Gov. Pete Wilson listed the conference’s activities among his reasons for vetoing the Bar’s annual fee bill. By stepping out from under the Bar’s umbrella, the conference will be free to propose legislation and conduct other political activities. Gov. Davis signed SB 1897 Monday. Written by Los Angeles Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the bill had passed 39-0 in the Senate and 72-4 in the Assembly. Kuehl, a former civil rights attorney, once sat on the conference’s executive committee. The new organization will be christened at the Bar’s annual meeting, which begins Oct. 10 in Monterey. At the end of the weekend meeting, the newly formed Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations will take over the activities of the old group, said current conference Chair Stephen Marsh. The first chair of the new group will be Vivian Kral, a Redwood City solo practitioner who specializes in family law and alternative dispute resolution. The Bar’s Board of Governors voted to spin off the conference in May. Founded 68 years ago, the conference is nearly as old as the Bar, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, Marsh said. The conference has about 500 delegates from local and specialty law associations. For the past three years, the conference has been funded by a voluntary $10 contribution from Bar members. About 11 percent of the nearly 180,000 Bar members opt to give the $10, Marsh said. The nonprofit hopes to avoid increasing the voluntary per-person dues by signing up more new members, Marsh said.

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