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For the record, the California State Bar Board of Governors has unanimously OK’d letting one of its committees urge California Governor Gray Davis to veto legislation that would abolish the state’s so-called Baby Bar exam. But in reality, there’s as much disagreement among Bar governors as there is within the legal profession at large over the 62-year-old examination that’s mandatory for students at California’s 20-odd unaccredited law schools. Keep it, some governors argued at a recent meeting in San Francisco. Get rid of it, others railed. The Baby Bar, officially called the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, was created by the Legislature in 1938 to weed out students who have virtually no chance of ever passing the General Bar Examination. Proponents say the test — which students at unaccredited law schools must take at the end of their first year — provides consumer protection by letting students know whether they’re wasting their time before wasting thousands of dollars on a useless education. Opponents say the test discriminates against poor and minority students. The State Board of Governors got into the debate recently when Jerome Braun, the State Bar’s senior executive for admissions, sought permission for the Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners to lobby Davis against Assembly Bill 1042. Introduced by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, the bill — which has passed the Assembly and is expected to easily soar through the Senate — would abolish the Baby Bar in three years. “I have no idea how Gov. Davis feels about this bill,” Braun said. “We hope he sees it the way the committee does.” Braun got the board’s OK to approach Davis, but not before a spirited debate. Governors Patrick Dixon, Palmer Madden and Karen Nobumoto spoke favorably about the Baby Bar, while James Herman and Paul Hokokian spoke against it. “I’m not sure [that] as a consumer protection device we need to force people to take an expensive law exam at the end of their first year,” argued Herman, a partner at Santa Barbara’s Reicker, Clough, Pfau, Pyle, McRoy & Herman who graduated from San Diego’s American Bar Association-approved California Western School of Law. “Why are we hitting this gnat with this hammer?” On the other hand, Nobumoto, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who graduated from L.A.’s ABA-approved Southwestern University School of Law, called the Baby Bar “a great service” for those who aren’t qualified to practice law. It’s better to spend only $10,000 in one year before finding out you aren’t cut out for a legal career, she said, than spending $80,000 over four years. Bar Governor Valerie Miller, a partner at Chico’s Persons & Miller who graduated from the ABA-approved Santa Clara University School of Law, took a neutral stance, citing the 75 percent of students from unaccredited law schools who fail the Baby Bar. “We’re ignoring the major issue here,” she said. “Why can’t these people pass the Baby Bar? Is there some level of oversight on the underlying instruction? This is really terrible that only 25 percent can pass the stupid thing.” Rest assured, the debate isn’t over yet.

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