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California State Bar governors took a historic step Tuesday by electing a black woman as president of the association for the first time ever. Karen Nobumoto, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, won the vote in a five-person race, prevailing in the final tally over San Francisco Assistant Public Defender Ronald Albers, who would have been the State Bar’s first openly gay president had he won. Nobumoto, 48, is only the second female president in the California Bar’s 74-year history and the first woman of any ethnic minority to hold the top office. In addition, she is the first public lawyer to head up the 175,000-member association. “It’s a tremendous opportunity,” Nobumoto said by telephone shortly after her victory in a conference room at the State Bar’s Los Angeles offices. “I am really humbled. It’s my dream.” Nobumoto was chosen by the other 18 members of the State Bar Board of Governors, who cast their votes on secret ballots following speeches by the five candidates, all of whom were in their third and final year on the board. Nobumoto was chosen on the fourth ballot by the Board of Governors, with the lowest vote-getter of each tally being booted out of the election. The first to go was James “Jay” Greiner, 45, a Sacramento criminal-defense lawyer who vowed to use technology to the Bar’s best benefit and pointed to his proven leadership on various boards, including a stint as president of the Sacramento County Bar Association. Next out was David Roth, 47, an Oakland sole practitioner who spoke about the importance of harnessing the creativity of all board members to make the association more powerful. And then there was James Otto, 51, an of counsel at Torrance’s John Hill & Associates who talked about making the State Bar more responsive to the needs of the public and the state’s lawyers. Albers, also 51, made an impassioned plea about making the law accessible to all people, citing an instance as a young lawyer when he encountered bias that prevented him from using a fellowship to do civil rights work in Minnesota. “I could not find a sponsor,” he said, “because I was openly gay.” During her pre-vote speech, Nobumoto had stressed her experience on the Bar. She called herself a team player committed to building consensus and outlined an agenda that includes expanded services to Bar members, a review of Bar governance and assuring fairness in the Bar’s discipline system. Nobumoto also pointed out that she had never missed a single board meeting and vowed to seek an immediate transfer out of her job as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles DA’s career-criminal unit. She said she has already gotten her boss’s OK to work a position that will free her to focus on her work as Bar president. Nobumoto, who will be the State Bar’s 76th president, doesn’t take office until September in Anaheim, where the Bar will hold its annual meeting. She will replace current president Palmer Madden, a mediator in the East Bay town of Alamo, and vowed to work closely with him to ease the transition. About 30 State Bar employees watched the Los Angeles election by live video in the San Francisco headquarters. When Otto, believed by many to be the front-runner in the election went out early, there was a loud gasp in the room. A similar reaction occurred minutes later when Nobumoto beat out Albers, who was clearly the crowd’s favorite after Otto. Greiner, who was obviously the least favorite of the viewing audience, inadvertently drew a few chuckles when it appeared he had made a reference to a Cheech and Chong movie as evidence of the kind of goals that can be met in a yearlong presidential term. It turned out that Greiner, whose voice was hard to hear by video because he had roamed away from the microphone, was talking about making the public aware of “Taking Charge,” a State Bar-produced film regarding estate-planning scams. Nobumoto, who was admitted to the California Bar in 1989, graduated from Los Angeles’ Southwestern University School of Law. Her Bar life began as a student member of a subcommittee of the Bar’s ethnic minority relations committee. She was president of the John M. Langston Bar Association in 1997 and currently serves on California Gov. Gray Davis’ Diversity Task Force. She belongs to the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Inc. and the Association of Deputy District Attorneys and is a founding fellow of the Foundation of the State Bar.

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