The D.C. Bar Board of Governors voted this month to eliminate nomination-by-petition as an option for lawyers interested in being the bar's president-elect, a change that proponents say is in line with best practices.
Petition nominees for president-elect are rare, according to lawyers familiar with the process. In future elections, the board-appointed nominations committee will choose all nominees for president-elect, who becomes president after one year and has official duties as a past president the year after. Nomination-by-petition will remain an option for other bar leadership positions.
The board approved the change at its January 15 meeting, as well as two other amendments to the by-laws recommended by the bar's Leadership Development Committee. "Given the unique nature of the position of president-elect, a petition candidate for that office was not a desirable way of having thoughtful, careful, experienced leadership candidates presented to the members of the bar for a vote," said Philip Lacovara, chair of the Leadership Development Committee and a senior counsel at Mayer Brown.
Lacovara said the committee looked at how other bar organizations handled nominations. The committee based its recommendations on what members thought were "the most sensible and practical procedures," he said, and did not focus on how many candidates were nominated by petition in the past.
D.C. Bar President Thomas Williamson Jr., a senior counsel at Covington & Burling, said that for a bar with 72,000 active members and 98,000 total members, it made sense to have the nominations committee vet candidates for a position with a three-year commitment. "With that number of people, there are a whole lot of people who rely on the nominating committee to do some sort of a screening or provide the assurance that whoever is on the ballot is somebody who is qualified and a person of integrity," he said.
Although a majority of the board voted for the changes, it was not a unanimous decision. Board member Vytas Vergeer, legal director at local nonprofit Bread for the City, said he did not support the change. "I believe that the membership should be as involved as possible in by-laws changes, in elections, in being able to be involved with the bar, and this makes it harder for people to get involved with the bar," he said. Even if petition nominees are rare, he said, "I would have liked the bar to send a more welcoming message than perhaps this does."
Vergeer added that he respected the majority's position and credited the board "with taking a very long time at the meeting to discuss this."
The board also voted to change the number of signatures required for petition candidates from a minimum of 100 to at least one-half of one-percent of the bar's total active membership at the start of the year. Given the growth in bar membership, Lacovara said basing required signatures on a percentage of all members "was the most reasonable and flexible way of doing it."
Another amendment would clarify that petitions have to be submitted using an official form provided by the bar. The Leadership Development Committee recommended identifying petition candidates on the ballot, but the board voted against that idea.
The deadline recently passed to submit applications to the nominations committee for consideration in this year's election. The committee will hold a public meeting on February 15 at the D.C. Bar offices for members who want to speak on their own behalf or for another person they're recommending for nomination.