Wesley Horton
Wesley Horton ()

The Connecticut Bar Association is considering some of the broadest changes to its constitution in more than 65 years. Among the proposals, which will be discussed with the 9,300-plus members of the organization, is whether the current governance structure should be changed.

In a report submitted to CBA President Kimberly Knox at her request, a three-member committee comprised of Wesley Horton, Tom Gugliotti and Ira Bloom laid out the major issues that they feel should be addressed.

Among them, the committee suggested, is whether the CBA should continue its current two-tiered governance structure.

“Should the CBA become unicameral?,” Horton wrote in the report, which was shared with CBA members last week. “If so, should the House of Delegates and Board of Governors be combined? Should a whole new governing body be created? Should there be a Board of Directors within the governing body?”

As it stands, a proposal for any CBA action, such as backing a legislative initiative or taking a position on a Judicial Branch rule change, typically must be approved by the 58 representatives in the CBA House of Delegates. There have been exceptions to that process. For instance, in 2012, when the CBA’s leadership under then-President Barry Hawkins voted to join in lawsuits supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, the involvement was not approved by the full House of Delegates.

The committee members, and Knox, said there was no specific incident or “problem” that prompted the review. Instead, the document and the structure of the organization were due for a look-over. “When Kim became president last summer, she came into my office with the constitution, and said, ‘I can’t read this,’” recalled Horton, who is partners with Knox in the Hartford firm of Horton, Shields & Knox.

Knox said she appointed the constitutional committee to review the CBA constitution for “very simple reasons.”

“To bring further clarity and order to the CBA’s governing document,” she said. “And to address the request of members of the House [of Delegates] and Board [of Governors] to ensure that our governing structure met the needs of the association and its members in the 21st century.”

Knox further explained that the present CBA constitution in use was adopted in 1948, and had been amended 36 times, often creating inconsistencies or redundancies in the language.

The committee’s first task, said Knox, was to reorganize the sections and clarify the language of the constitution “so its provisions could be more easily understood and located.” No substantive changes were made, and the House of Delegates unanimously voted to approve those initial changes in January.

The delegates then instructed Horton and the others on the committee to propose amendments that might result in a “restructuring of our government rules,” Knox said.

In addition to considering whether to combine the House of Delegates and 17-member Board of Governors, the report also questions how the composition of the governing body should be determined. Currently, delegates are chosen from 17 geographic regions, from the CBA’s sections and from six of the state’s minority (sometimes called affinity) bar associations. The committee questioned, for example, whether it might be a good idea to set some seats for members of the Young Lawyers Section.

The committee also said the CBA should discuss how often geographic districts should be reconfigured and how affinity representation to the CBA House of Delegates should be characterized. In 2012, the CBA amended its constitution to guarantee seats to affinity bar groups, as long as those groups had a certain percentage of their members who were also CBA members.

One of the committee members, Gugliotti, said the committee and the CBA leadership are committed to having a full discussion of proposed changes with all CBA members. “We’re very proud of the work that we’re doing,” he said. “I think going forward, this will be a full and open process, and we want to get the opinions of the members.”

With that in mind, the CBA created an email address, CBAConstitution@ctbar.org, where members can share concerns with CBA leaders. Those concerns are to be submitted before April 15.

The CBA will also hold an open meeting at CBA headquarters in New Britain on April 30 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. “to hear the views of any member who wishes to speak on the subject or present written materials in person,” Knox said.

The committee will compile the views of all those expressed, and report them to the House of Delegates in June. “I expect that further developments will be considered by the House at that time,” Knox said. “But it is likely that the proposed amendments to our constitution will be ready for adoption some time in 2015.”•