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For the past two years, California Deputy Attorney General Richard Tullis has traveled the state, attending fund-raisers, shaking hands, spending money, patting backs and trying to get the ear of any lawmaker who will take the time to listen to him. His mission: To turn a flabby and feckless union of state lawyers into a potent political force with the lobbying power and Capitol presence needed to get real results for its members. “It takes a lot of shoe leather,” says Tullis, president of the California Attorneys in State Employment, the 3,000-member union of state attorneys and administrative law judges. For Tullis, who was swept into office two years ago to invigorate the financially strapped and politically weak union, walking the halls in Sacramento, Calif. is the only way he knows to get legislators to pay attention to the union’s concerns. Chief among those concerns is raising pay for state lawyers — which, according to the union, lags 25 to 37 percent behind lawyers in other public sector offices. “Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we do work for public officials and we are in the world of politics,” he says. “Once you start with the idea that you work for political figures you naturally have to be in that process or you’re not going to be seen or heard. It’s hard enough to get things done when you’re known, but when you’re not it’s impossible.” While some union members question his methods, Tullis says it’s absurd to think anything can be gained at the state level without being engaged in the process. What does concern him is whether CASE can continue in a unified direction. “I don’t think it’s practical that people with fundamental views of the world are going to be able to continue as a united slate,” he says. THREE-PRONGED APPROACH Tullis would like to see CASE build along the lines of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a union that wields substantial power in Sacramento. And since taking over CASE in 1999 following a contentious four-way election that divided members down political and ideological lines, Tullis has concentrated his efforts on raising the profile of the organization. To do that, he has settled on a three-pronged approach that includes personal meetings, a public relations campaign and more effective use of its political action committee. That has included everything from testifying on behalf of legislation to taking out newspaper ads that urge bipartisan support in solving the state’s energy crisis. “We’re not in anybody’s pocket and we like to think of ourselves as a good government group,” Tullis says. “We support people on both sides of the aisle.” As an example of that, the union used its PAC contributions last year to endorse 50 state candidates. All of them won. Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Calif., who is currently working with CASE on a bill that will give protections to state lawyers in whistleblower cases, says the union has definitely succeeded in raising its profile. “They have established a real presence,” he says. “They make a very strong case for public attorneys.” Still, CASE is not yet a household name with everyone at the Capitol. “I’ve never heard of them,” says Assemblyman Lou Papan, D-Millbrae, Calif. RIGHTING THE SHIP When Tullis’ slate took over CASE, which was then known as ACSA, or the Association of California State Attorneys, what they found was a union that had fallen into disrepair. “It was a 20-year-old organization that had fallen into a state of neglect,” Tullis says. “It was unknown, and it wasn’t very effective.” The first thing the new board did was shore up the finances and rebuild the structure of the union, which had $200,000 on hand and was running a $20,000 deficit each month. To fix the problem, Tullis says CASE began watching its expenses and choosing its services more carefully. One way of doing that was to get rid of its labor representatives and replace them with attorneys. They also kept a closer eye on expenses and today the reserve stands at around $450,000, and the union is working with a surplus. “We certainly had money problems,” he says. “I didn’t realize how severe it was until I was elected.” The next thing the union did was get a new name. As ACSA, the group was constantly being confused with the Association of California School Administrators. And at a reception one evening, Tullis was told flatly by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, that if they didn’t want the confusion, they had better come up with a new acronym. “[Lawmakers] really couldn’t get it out of their minds that we were the school administrators,” Tullis says. What the union needed, he says, was a name that called to mind an image of what they did. What they came up with was CASE, as in a court case. “Our visibility has increased tremendously,” he says. Lastly they built up the PAC, which, at $1.2 million in the bank, has grown into one of the largest PACs operated by a state bargaining unit not affiliated with larger unions like the Service Employees International Union. Still, maneuvering through state government wasn’t easy. Tullis says he had no idea how things worked in Sacramento when he started his term. “I didn’t know a lobbyist in Sacramento; I didn’t know very many local attorneys,” he says. “I didn’t know any of the people that I had to naturally not only get to know, but work with very closely.” He says just getting to know the needs of his own members, who are spread out around 80 different departments was difficult enough. “We could have many more members, and it would be less complex if we all worked in the same place,” he says. PASSING LEGISLATION CASE’s legislative agenda this session has primarily focused on getting pay raises for state attorneys. State attorneys have received just one 4 percent raise since Gov. Pete Wilson’s second term. And the union, which recently spent $30,000 putting together its own salary survey, claims that state salaries have lagged behind other public sector offices. Prior to Gray Davis’ election, the union had gone without a contract for five years. Tullis says he’s not trying to compete with salaries at private firms, but he says the discrepancy among public salaries has put the state in danger of not being able to recruit or retain top talent. “We’re competing against other public entities that do the same work, and you’ve got to have some reason people want to work for you,” he says. Although CASE is currently in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the California Department of Personnel, the union is also pushing a bill — SB 1160 — which will guarantee that state lawyers are compensated comparably with other public lawyers in their respective regions. That bill unanimously passed the full Senate more than a week ago, and Tullis attributes its success to the fact that lawmakers are beginning to understand that the state needs competent legal counsel. “Many people aren’t crazy about lawyers and many aren’t crazy in general about state employees,” he says. “But on the other hand, there’s wide support for criminal prosecution, there’s wide support for environmental protection, and there’s wide support for solving the energy problem.” “I don’t know anything that’s passed [the Senate] 40-0,” he adds. GOING FORWARD Despite the success of the pay parity bill and the union’s newfound visibility in Sacramento, Tullis acknowledges that his efforts haven’t been popular with everyone in CASE. And Tullis, who came into office on a slate dubbed “United for Change,” sees his coalition of union officials splitting in the future as CASE becomes more successful. Tullis says there are still some in the union who disagree with the PAC and public relations strategy the union has chosen and would rather go on strike if the union’s demands aren’t met. Former ACSA president Robert Katz, a deputy AG who ran the organization for 14 years, says he doesn’t want to criticize the board, but he says many people feel Tullis has pinned all his hopes on the passage of SB 1160. “They’ve done things that have raised expectations,” he says, meaning if SB 1160 fails, the board may find itself with a lot of very unhappy attorneys. He adds that many in the union feel the board overstepped its bounds when it raised dues last March. “Some people thought something that major should have been taken to a vote,” he says. One of those members is John Siquieros, an attorney with the Los Angeles office of the Department of Industrial Relations who ran against Tullis in the 1999 election. Siquieros declined to air his personal feelings about the board because he’s on the CASE negotiating team, but he’s criticized the organization in the past for lacking teeth and not acting like a real union. Tullis contends that is a very simple way of looking at the problem. “That may work in industry, but the problem with attorneys is, we have a very difficult time going on strike,” he says. ‘We’re basically in the realm of people — like police officers and firemen — who can’t walk off the job.” While he admits that the inability to strike hurts the union’s leverage in negotiations, he says being a good public servant will eventually pay off. “I personally think that’s looking at this like its Ford Motor Co.,” he says. “I don’t think the public would want to hear that prosecutions aren’t going forward because lawyers are on strike.” Tullis also foresees the fracturing of his own slate now that CASE has turned itself around. “I think it’s just a natural process that that’s going to happen eventually as we mature past that first board.” With his term set to expire in September, Tullis, who compares his union duties to a second full-time job, is considering a run at a second term despite the fact that he has a six-year-old daughter and his garden is being taken over by weeds. If he doesn’t run, he says he will look at the last two years with pride. “If I don’t run again I’ll feel like we’ve pointed the union in the right direction,” he says.

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