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In a flurry of voting on the last day of its annual meeting in San Francisco, the American Bar Association recommended allowing in-house lawyers to report fraud up the chain of command at their companies, urged that civil lawyers be allowed to vigorously defend prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and opposed laws, like one on the California ballot, that would forbid the government from collecting racial data. The votes came one day after the ABA narrowly approved changes to its model professional conduct rules allowing lawyers to breach the attorney-client privilege if their advice has been used to commit crime. Tuesday’s vote to allow in-house lawyers to report crime up the corporate ladder was also close, but the other resolutions passed with ease. The resolution to oppose any law that prohibits the collection of racially identifiable information was proposed by the Bar Association of San Francisco. It was prompted by Proposition 54, dubbed by supporters as the Racial Privacy Initiative, which will be on the state’s Oct. 7 ballot. “It is something that sets the civil rights movement back 50 years,” said Mark Schickman, a partner at the San Francisco office of Perkins Coie who presented the proposal to the ABA’s House of Delegates. Schickman said Prop 54 will have disastrous consequences on civil rights and employment litigation, will frustrate efforts to combat racial profiling by law enforcement and will hamper medical research. If passed, he warned that the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing “will be out of business in 10 years.” Prop 54 is backed by University of California Regent Ward Connerly, who spearheaded the passage of Prop 209. Supporters say the government has no business asking citizens about their race. Also under consideration were two resolutions dealing with military justice. The resolution urging changes in the Bush administration’s military tribunal rules for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay passed easily. It asks the administration not to monitor privileged conversations between accused terrorists and their civilian lawyers and to allow lawyers to be present during all phases of the proceedings. But a resolution opposing war crimes charges brought against soldiers in foreign courts under the concept of “universal jurisdiction” did not fare as well. With about half the delegates having already left the meeting, a motion to indefinitely postpone the resolution passed 114-105. The resolution was brought in response to a suit filed in a Belgian court against Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, for alleged war crimes. A suit has also been filed in Spain against the U.S. military for firing on a Baghdad hotel used to house journalists. Opponents said the resolution could undermine efforts to bring true despots to justice, pointing to several suits filed in U.S. courts that include allegations of torture and murder. Supporters, however, said the resolution was needed to protect U.S. forces. “Our soldiers are out there every day making decisions in the heat of battle which could come back to haunt them,” said Suzanne Spaulding, chair of the ABA’s standing committee on law and national security. The delegates also recommended that gay partners and unmarried straight couples be allowed to adopt children together. About half the states have allowed such adoptions, which give both parents legal rights and allow children to qualify for inheritance and other benefits from both parents. The adoption recommendation did not address whether gay people should be eligible to marry. The ABA is already on record supporting the right of gay people to adopt children.

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