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California Black Caucus writes letters defending a State Bar candidate and a longtime public servant

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

On Sept.15, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) sent out separate letters to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate Pro Tem Sen. Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), voicing its concerns about the treatment of two high profile African-American public servants.  In the letter obtained by California Black Media, the organization, comprised of African Americans elected to the state legislature, called out the “practices of the State Bar of California —  most recently involving Black women.” “Specifically, we are shocked and appalled by the mistreatment of Attorney Fredericka McGee, who had her job offer as Executive Director of the State Bar rescinded without explanation. We are also troubled that Debbie Manning recently and abruptly resigned from the State Board,” CLBC chair and Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) wrote in the letter to Atkins. 

The board of trustees offered McGee — a respected California legislative attorney licensed in the state for 30 years — the position of executive director in July.  Last month, the organization, which serves as an administrative arm of the State Supreme Court and is charged with protecting the public interest, reportedly withdrew the proposal without providing McGee an explanation. 

Manning, a member of State Bar’s 13-member board — the only African American serving on the governing body — surprisingly resigned halfway through her term. She was appointed to a four-year term by the state Senate in 2018.  “Over the past few months, this nation has witnessed the inhumane treatment of African Americans in this country. While the focus has been on law enforcement, we are aware that systemic racism does not confine itself to one agency, but can be experienced in macro and micro aggression,” Weber stated in the letter to Newsom. The executive director of the State Bar leads the senior management team responsible for various programs. The position requires the executive director to answer to the board of trustees and advance its policies.

The State Bar Board of Trustees chairperson Alan Steinbrecher, responding to published reports about the McGee issue, said the governing board does not comment publicly about personnel decisions.

“We are not in the position to respond to specifics reported in the press because the executive director’s selection process is a confidential, personnel matter,” he said.  Weber requested an urgent meeting with Newsom to discuss the issues surrounding the State Bar and McGee’s appointment. Her letter also asked that the governor veto Assembly Bill (AB) 3362 or hold off on considering it until a meeting takes place.  AB 3362, a bill that would authorize the State Bar to collect fees from California attorneys and restrict its board of trustees from discussing issues about the Bar’s exams administration, is currently being reviewed by the governor. “The State Bar of California has a long history of inappropriate behavior. The need to hold them accountable is long overdue. While the Legislature’s role is limited, it is no less important and impactful,” Weber said in the letter to the governor. The mission of the CLBC is to advocate for the interests of Black Californians, remove obstacles that Black Americans face in every aspect of life, demand equity to eliminate disparities between racial groups, and increase African-American participation and representation in all levels of government.    Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus include: The chair, Assemblymember Shirley N.Weber (D-San Diego); Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles), the group’s vice chair; Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), secretary; Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Sacramento), treasurer; Sen, Holy J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles); Assemblymember Chris R. Holden (D-Pasadena); Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles); Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-South Bay, Los Angeles); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (D- South Los Angeles); and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).

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