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If Richard Koch has his way, lawyers gathering in Monterey this week for the State Bar’s annual meeting will demand that the Bush administration be investigated for invading Iraq and condoning torture in violation of international treaties. But Koch, a San Francisco solo practitioner, will have a hard time getting his way. The leaders of the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations, the group to which Koch will take his plea on behalf of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, have already declared his resolution on the Iraqi invasion not germane to its mission and goals. The same could hold true for his torture resolution. That’s a bit unusual for the conference, a group legendary for engaging in debates on every hot topic imaginable over the years — gun control, abortion rights, gay rights and even nuclear armaments. While the Iraqi invasion appears off the map this year, the group is preparing to delve into plenty of other controversial, and even titillating, topics Friday through Sunday. Among the more than 100 resolutions submitted for debate are proposals to redefine state-sanctioned marriage, place a moratorium on the state’s death penalty, ban drivers from using cell phones, do away with audible car alarms, keep “kiddie pools” out of child care facilities and legalize topless sunbathing at state beaches. There will also be speeches by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Chief Justice Ronald George and incoming State Bar President John Van de Kamp, the state’s AG through most of the ’80s. Koch insists he’ll raise a ruckus to get his resolutions debated too, and to convince the conference to officially condemn the actions of the Bush administration. “What this is doing to the reputation of the United States is quite significant,” he said. “We’re taking some leadership to show the rest of the world that the United States isn’t monolithic, and I think we have the right to attack the Bush administration.” Any resolutions adopted at the State Bar meeting will go on to be prioritized by an executive committee and then sent on to the state Legislature, where a part-time lobbyist will fight for their passage. Linda Mazur, the conference’s Valley Village-based chief financial officer, said 15 resolutions have been enacted into law in the past two years. Eventually, most resolutions become law, said current chairman Marc Sallus. “I think we have a very big impact on the law.” One recent conference-backed law dealt with support payment issues, recalled Sallus. Another, which he sponsored, provided special notice to certain people and creditors in trust proceedings. “That helps protect creditors’ rights,” said Sallus, a partner in Encino’s Oldman, Cooley, Leighton, Sallus, Gold & Birnberg. But it’s not creditors’ rights or support payments that get the delegates all riled up and ready to clash. It’s things like gay marriage, the death penalty and car phones. Last year’s delegates voted to oppose Proposition 54, a subsequently failed statewide initiative that would have banned classifying individuals by race, ethnicity and national origin for public education, contracting and employment purposes. The 2002 conference urged an amendment to the Patriot Act that would have ensured the rights of immigration detainees and reined in the use of military tribunals. And in 2000, delegates engaged in lengthy debates that resulted in a call for a death penalty moratorium and a refusal to seek legislation prohibiting motorists from using cell phones. The Santa Barbara County Bar Association is leading this year’s campaign against car phones. Betty Jeppesen holds out great hope that she can convince her fellow lawyers to stop their cars if they want to make a telephone call. “We have had more accidents in the last four years than I can ever recall, and I just believe it’s because many, many, many of the accidents are caused while [drivers are] using cell phones,” said Jeppesen, general counsel at Islay Investments. “I see them cross several lanes of freeway and in front of cars to get off an exit, and I’ve seen reports of studies that people using cell phones are [as accident-prone] as drunken drivers.” No matter the outcome, the debate is guaranteed to be lively. Perhaps the most controversial resolution was submitted by 10 individual lawyers asking that marriage be redefined as a civil union, possibly removing the problem that the general public has with gay marriages. “It removes any appearance of [the] state’s establishment of religion,” the lawyers wrote in their proposed resolution. “It leaves the protection of the ‘sanctity’ of marriage to the church and not the state. It removes the word with religious connotations from legal entanglement.” That’s a topic that would have been untouchable a few years back. No longer. The conference, which used to be funded by the State Bar, went independent two years ago. The group, comprised of about 500 delegates from community bar associations statewide, says it survives on voluntary $25 donations, enough to get by this year on a budget of about $250,000. “By becoming independent, we removed the concern that people had about being part of the State Bar and how State Bar money was spent,” said Laura Goldin, the conference’s San Francisco-based executive director. “There is no question this is our money, and people are able to come up with ideas to be discussed — if they are relevant and germane.”

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