The troubled Utah Law and Justice Center and the Utah State Bar's financial woes got national play in the December issue of the ABA Journal - a monthly magazine published by the American Bar Association.
In January, the ABA hailed the center as a pioneering effort to reach out to the public. But this month's article calls the center a "tremendous cash drain" and a "hole in the state bar's purse."Noting that the Utah Supreme Court has ordered the state bar to get its financial house in order, the Journal said observers likened the bar's status to a business in receivership.
Pamela Greenwood, president of the state bar, told the Deseret News, "On the whole, I thought the article was fair. Of course, part of it was people's opinions about the current situation and I don't necessarily agree with all of those opinions."
The Supreme Court issued an order in August sharply raising bar dues to whittle down a deficit that reached a high of $269,000 in 1989.
The article reported that when the court issued the order, it also called for a task force to examine the operation of the state bar, ordered the bar to jettison all programs that are not self-supporting, end deficit spending and pay off short-term debt.
Greenwood said the court didn't exactly order the bar to end all programs that aren't self-supporting. It instructed the bar to evaluate all programs for cost-effectiveness and then petition the court to keep non-regulatory programs that do not support themselves but are considered worthwhile by the bar, she said.
The article's author, Don J. DeBenedictis, interviewed past and present leaders of the bar to determine how the bar could have miscalculated its finances so badly that it constructed a large building it now struggles to pay for.
The article laid much blame at the door of local attorney Brian Barnard, "a relentless gadfly" whose lawsuits against the bar forced the bar into five years of deficit spending, the Journal said. Ten of the 13 suits filed against the bar in the past two years were filed by Barnard, the article said.
"(Barnard's suits) were a factor, but not the major factor" in the bar's deficit spending, Greenwood said.
The article also cited poor planning by Law and Justice Center proponents. It noted that the size and expense of the building doubled between the time it was planned and the time it was constructed while fund-raising efforts dwindled.
The article suggested that former executive director Stephen Hutchinson took an unfair hit over the bar's problems. Utah bar commissioners asked Hutchinson to resign when the bar's financial disarray was discovered, it said. It praised Hutchinson's work with the ABA and other bar associations and concluded, "Some bar execs in nearby states wonder if perhaps he was a scapegoat for the Utah bar's problems."
So what did the ABA find at the root of the bar and center's financial problems? The article summed up the problem with a remark from Brian R. Florence, a past bar president: "In all probability, there were a lot of well-intentioned people who didn't pay as much attention as they should have."