HOWARD MILLER SWORN IN AS 85TH STATE BAR PRESIDENT
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San Diego, September 12, 2009 — With a pledge to enlist California lawyers to provide pro bono services to victims of loan foreclosure fraud, Howard Miller, a partner at Girardi Keese in Los Angeles, was sworn in today as the 85th president of The State Bar of California.
"Unfortunately, there are times when lawyers themselves contribute to injustice," Miller said in his inaugural speech after being sworn in by Chief Justice Ronald George at the State Bar Annual Meeting. Miller noted that the State Bar receives several hundred calls a month from people facing foreclosure who respond to ads and pay attorneys $2,500 to $3,500 — and even as much as $7,000 — to help them keep their homes. "And the lawyers have simply walked away with the money," Miller said. " Unfortunately this is not a small group," adding that he was talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of lawyers.
He said the bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel, which has created a special foreclosure fraud team, must continue its prosecution of lawyers who engage in such misconduct, but he said the profession itself must also take a stand.
"One of the things we must do . . . is to coordinate between legal service programs and pro bono providers and organize coalitions so that we can make a commitment that every person who has been hurt by the lawyer that person paid to receive those services, that, as a profession, we will provide pro bono representation to that client."
Miller called pro bono "a core value of the legal profession" and listed a number of bar programs, such as the Justice Gap Fund and the Access to Justice Commission, as programs that promote pro bono work.
Miller said he is not suggesting making pro bono work mandatory for California lawyers. Instead, he would like policies at the bar and throughout the profession to reflect a commitment to provide legal services to everyone who needs them. He said he wants to start a program in which every member of the bar has some kind of affiliation with a legal services program and gets appropriate training; to ensure that cy pres awards in class action suits will be used to help legal services, and provide more training sessions in courts for unrepresented people. A Board of Governors committee solely devoted to legal services is working on institutionalizing such programs, he said. The bar is working, "to change the culture" so that pro bono is part of everyone's practice.
Well-wishers in the luncheon audience included lawyers, judges, members of Miller's firm, which hosted the luncheon, as well as his wife of 52 years, Shirley, his three sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
Miller, 72, succeeds Holly Fujie of Buchalter Nemer in Los Angeles. Chief Justice George said Miller has "an excellent reputation for all his contributions to the legal profession." Miller graduated from Pepperdine University and University of Chicago Law School. He specializes in patent and other intellectual property litigation, anti-trust and general complex commercial litigation. He also does appellate work for the firm.
Since 2004, Miller has been listed annually as a "Southern California Super Lawyer" by Los Angeles Magazine. He had been named among the 500 leading litigators in America, was president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee and wa s a law professor at the University of Southern California.
His broad range of experience includes serving as president of the Los Angeles Board of Education from 1977-1979 and chief operating officer of the district from 1999-2000. He also was executive editor of the Los Angeles Daily Journal for two years, and he had s a leading role on the 1969-73 PBS weekly television show, "The Advocates," in which public issues were put on trial with unrehearsed examination of leading public figures. He also has a Los Angeles radio program. "Champions of Justice," with his law partner, Thomas Girardi.
Founded by the state legislature in 1927, the State Bar of California is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, serving the public and seeking to improve the justice system for more than 80 years. All lawyers practicing law in California must be members of the State Bar. By September 2009, membership reached 223,000.