Pantone: Tone Deaf at the OC Bar Association

Negative stereotypes are amongst the most commonly used weapons to sow division and hatred in society. They are used to isolate, marginalize, and negate the value of entire groups of people, and to elevate those outside the targeted group. Stereotypes were used in post-World War 1 Germany to inflame public perception of Jews, scapegoat them for Germany’s economic problems and to justify the passage of the Nuremburg Laws. Stereotypes were used in the South to justify slavery and perpetuate racial segregation. Stereotypes were used to deny women the vote, equal pay, access to quality jobs, and to define women as the property of their husbands. Sadly, the use of stereotypes to isolate and scapegoat minorities remains all too common in America.

Of all professional groups, one would expect lawyers to understand the fundamental ugliness and insidious danger of stereotypes.

Apparently not. At least in the case of Michael Baroni, recently installed president of the Orange County Bar Association. Mr. Baroni has set off a firestorm of controversy within the Orange County legal community by using his very first president’s column in Orange County Lawyer magazine to publish a tone deaf, partisan screed accusing immigrants of attempting to undermine America:

America’s treasured, founding values and ideals, and the “American Dream” itself, are under an unprecedented attack from those who should appreciate it the most—immigrants. Never before has our country opened itself to so many people who openly express contempt for it, or who are blankly dispassionate for it—as opposed to thankfully embracing this country with every cell of their being (as my father, and past waves of immigrants, did). Many refugees have and continue to relocate into our towns and cities, not to assimilate into American culture and ideals, but to remake this land into the very kind of oppressive and volatile nation that they escaped from in the first place.

Ignore that this same attack has recycled and leveled against virtually every group of immigrants since the dawn of our country, perpetuating vile and false stereotypes advanced by anti-immigration groups. Ignore that it is certain to anger and alienate a large percentage of OCBA members. Ignore that it is certain to offend many of the affiliate bars such as the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association, Hispanic Bar Association, Orange County Asian American Bar Association, Korean Lawyers of Orange County, The Iranian American Bar Association, Italian American Bar Association, and the South Asian Bar Association of Southern California. Ignore that it is certain to lose OCBA existing and potential members, and tarnish its reputation.   Ask instead what could possibly have possessed Mr. Baroni to believe his president’s column in the official magazine of the Orange County Bar Association was an appropriate forum for him to express his personal political views?

As a citizen, Mr. Baroni has the constitutional right to the expression of his opinions and ideas, regardless of how offensive they may be to others. Yet the inflammatory nature of Mr. Baroni’s comments was certain to be viewed by many members of the OCBA and the public as a gratuitous, xenophobic and racist attack on immigrants. They were certain to inflame and reinforce the prejudicial views by some in Orange County toward immigrants and the ethnic and racial groups commonly associated with them.

OCBA’s bylaws define its president as “the official spokesperson for the Association, and it shall be the duty of the President to provide leadership in accomplishing the aims and purposes of the Association.” Mr. Baroni’s statements that immigrants were seeking to undermine American values and ideals and represent an existential threat to American culture and stability were made in his capacity as OCBA president, in his president’s column, in OCBA’s official publication. Consequently, the backlash against Mr. Baroni’s comments is directed not only toward Mr. Baroni, but toward OCBA’s broader leadership and how Mr. Baroni’s public statements are handled by the Association. The unprecedented public protest at OCBA’s Judge’s Night and Annual Meeting this past weekend – a protest led and participated in by many OCBA members – could hardly have been surprising.

Certainly, Orange County Lawyer is subject to editorial review to determine quality, relevance and propriety of what is published under the OCBA banner. How could OCBA have allowed such statements to make it to publication? By inflaming public and membership sentiment toward immigrants, the publication of Mr. Baroni’s column calls into question OCBA’s very commitment to its vision statement goal of “demand(ing) inclusivity, charity, and relevancy by and for our members . . . (and) continu(ing) to insist on promoting the integrity and honor of the legal profession while insisting on access to justice for all Orange County residents” and undermines its mission statement: “To Enhance the System of Justice, To Support the Lawyers Who Serve It, and To Assist the Community Served By It.”

The OCBA Executive Committee statement declaring “ . . . neither the OCBA as an organization nor the Executive Committee or the Board of Directors necessarily endorses the views expressed by Mr. Baroni . . . ” is worse than silence. OCBA’s statement ignores how truly offensive Mr. Baroni’s comments were, how these “opinions” were allowed to be published in the first place, and that they were made in Mr. Baroni’s official capacity as OCBA’s president. OCBA’s generic response that “ . . . to the extent those opinions appearing in an OCBA publication offended any of our members, we sincerely apologize” fails to even acknowledge, let alone address, the deeply divisive and inflammatory rhetoric within Mr. Baroni’s column and how it reflects more broadly upon OCBA’s leadership and standing in the community at large. OCBA members and the public should expect more out of the leadership of the largest bar association in sixth largest county in the nation. To his credit, Mr. Baroni has apologized for his column, and truly appears to be remorseful for the controversy it has ignited. Yet his apology fails to reflect any understanding of why his comments were harmful and offensive, let alone wrong.

True leadership inspires, it does not divide. It heals wounds proactively, it does not simply wish them away. OCBA leadership should address this controversy by formally announcing a program of mandatory bias training for its leadership and staff.   Although elimination of bias is a required component of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education of attorneys in California, such training was insufficient to flag the gross impropriety of publishing Mr. Baroni’s views on immigrants. Such training would be a truly meaningful step toward healing the wounds inflicted by Mr. Baroni’s column, and acknowledging the fundamental organizational failures that allowed the column to be published by OCBA in the first place.

The OCBA Board of Directors should further reexamine the process by which the board is selected, elected and appointed. Does OCBA leadership “fairly represent, to the extent reasonable, the diverse composition of the Association, including minorities, women, lawyers in firms of various sizes and sole practitioners, public lawyers, lawyers with various specialties, and lawyers in various geographic areas” as OCBA bylaws dictate?

Time will tell whether Mr. Baroni and OCBA seize upon this unfortunate controversy to meaningfully work toward eliminating bias, fulfilling its commitment to diversity, and healing the wounds inflicted by Mr. Baroni’s column.

James Pantone, Esq. is the founder and owner of Pantone Law in Santa Ana.

Vincent D. Howard, Esq. is the founder and controlling shareholder of Howard Law, PC in Anaheim.

Geraldine G. Ly, Esq. is the founder and owner of the Law Offices of Geraldine Ly in Santa Ana.

Jerry N. Gans, Esq. is the founder and partner in Gans and Rosenfeld in Irvine, CA.

Douglas Vanderpool, Esq. is the founder and owner of Vanderpool Law in Seal Beach, CA.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

  • Jacki Livingston

    It’s called secession, Ms. Ward. CalExit has the votes, and the west is sick and tired of being over taxed and under represented. Trump succeeded in only one thing, and that was gathering the intelligent and sane people to the cause of true freedom. The United States is done…over. The fact is, the extremist right and loony left have created such a mess, no one can find common ground, anymore. California pays in 26 billion dollars a year to support the Trump states of dumb lemmings who want coal and gas, and don’t want to educate themselves or share the playground with the non-white kids.

    And, just in case you were wondering why I am a wee bit hostile? It is because numerous county employees, including myself, wrote to you in utter desperation, when you first rose to power, seeking help for patients in nursing homes around the OC, but notably in a facility under YOUR watch. We sent you proof of outrageous assaults, robbery and abuses to these helpless patients, and how County officials from Moorlach to Nelson to Spitzer were involved in covering it up, and that there was criminal enterprise going on. You could not be bothered to even reply. You are no different than every other useless politician in Orange County, and the country, and all you guys care about are photo ops with wolf dogs, or chicken dinners to raise money from whatever dirty business will write you a check. You had people DYING, on your watch, madam, and you refused to even look at the situation, and now it is ten times worse. You talk about your former inlaws. So what? I grew up in the redneck heart of stupidity in this country, namely, Oklahoma. It is no excuse. Now, Anaheim, like Garden Grove, is overrun with cash cow nursing homes run by scum, some are linked to organized crime, and people like Spitzer are violating the law to protect them. So the next time you go to a rally for the next office you seek, remember that you failed to do this job, and that when you blather about the GOP BS of “family values” and “less taxes”, you stood by and did NOTHING while the elderly, sick and disabled were being violated and abused. You did nothing while they worked with county officials to skim millions from the public taxpayer coffers. You did nothing while county employees were forced out of their careers, after they reached out in desperation to you. But you are not alone…you are not special. You are just one of dozens of useless politicians, feeding at the trough and ignoring those they swore to serve. The USA will be far better off when CalExit passes in 2018 on the ballot, and we narrow our focus to get rid of those who do nothing but promise everything.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Bobby Jindal is a moron.

    That being said…what is assimilation? Does everyone have to be the same? What is wrong with keeping your old country’s ways? I agree that if you want to live here, learn English. Cool. But this would be a boring place if we all looked and thought and acted and dressed and prayed the same. Assimilation is cultural genocide, and we did enough of that to the Native residents who were here, first.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Hopefully, after secession in 2018, we will be able to come up with a better system for the west.

  • Jacki Livingston

    The Orange County Bar Association is a cover group that protects the shadiest if its lot, and does absolutely nothing to uphold the law, or the dignity of the profession. I had a very bad attorney, once, who showed up at a deposition in an attorney’s office wearing cut off sweat shorts and a horizontal striped sweater from K mart, along with Orange crocs. The sweater did not cover his protruding gut. The man weighed in at five hundred pounds. He also would call opposing counsel and tell her every, single word that I said in confidence, trying to weasel good favor with county government by sandbagging my case.

    Add into that a complaint I filed against Todd Spitzer, who was notified in writing by myself and outside county counsel that he would be called to testify under oath, regarding my case, and about his knowledge of criminal practices inside the agency and connections to organized crime. He used his wife, Jamie, to weasel his way out of testifying. Judge Jamie Spitzer assigned herself to be judge on my case, then, when I protested, she assigned Louise Armstrong, who was Spitzer’s own law firm client, close friend and a woman quoted in the news as saying she “owed him her life”. Armstrong pushed through a settlement to protect Spitzer from testifying under oath, one that was unenforceable, not that the County intended to enforce it at all. Since then, I have written both judges letters and asked for hearings, trying to force the county to comply with their own settlement. This guy wants to be District Attorney, but hides behind the Judge robes and skirts of his own wife and client, and refuses to testify about his knowledge of known associates of organized crime using the nursing homes as a cash cow.

    As of today, nineteen months after the fact, the Orange County Bar Association has never responded to my filed formal complaints, nor have they called or written me about the charges about Toddy the Wondermutt. I think that speaks volumes about the lack of integrity and ethics of this organization.

  • verifiedsane

    Some of the professions rated below and trusted less than attorneys by the public; are politicians and the news media….a bunch of attorneys judging another attorney on their voiced opinion, is like flushing a toilet to find out what remains…who gives a flying duck…

    • Jacki Livingston

      The person I know in OC with the most integrity is an attorney named Susan Cyprien, so I cannot agree totally. But overall, Orange County lawyers fall into a few categories: Bootlickers, cowards, incompetents, political who$es and deadbeats. I rate the ones who are both lawyer and politico up there with child molesters and TV Megachurch Preachers, on my demon scale.

  • Cynthia Ward

    So…I did read the “apology” from the OCBA President, and it is not an apology so much as a statement that the leaders of the OCBA are terribly sorry that a few snowflakes got their knickers in a knot. And having read the actually President’s letter in full, rather than the cherry picked lines of his opponents, I can only say that there is indeed nothing to apologize for, and while I am not a member of OCBA, I will look for future letters from this leader. Keep in mind I am not a lawyer (nor have I ever played on on TV) but I liked what he had to say, and I cannot fathom someone taking offense, if they actually read the piece in its full context.

    Mr. Baroni’s message praises those Americans who have fought to make America a place of freedom since its inception, and goes on to commit his own Presidency of the OCBA to further the work of speaking out against murders of Police officers, a crisis which has escalated dramatically in recent years, while stopping the scourge of human trafficking, and protecting those with disabilities that deserve our support. I have no personal contact of any kind with anyone involved in this inter-agency squabbling, but I cannot help thinking those offended by Mr Baroni’s words were seeking something they could point to as an offense. Did Mr. Baroni recently gain the OCBA Presidency in a highly contested battle in which his accusers were part of an opposing faction? Just curious.

    The ONE section of the message that seems to launch the word bombs back into the author’s face is a statement about SOME immigrants failing to express gratitude to the nation offering them asylum. That is a true statement of fact, and is not a condemnation of ALL immigrants, nor does the author claim that ALL immigrants are ungrateful miscreants intent upon the destruction of America. Mr. Baroni simply states the obvious, that today we see SOME immigrants in higher numbers than at any other period of our nation’s history who come to America while seemingly hating America and Americans. Can these detractors really argue against SOME (but not ALL) immigrants arrive, not seeking the usual opportunity for a better life, but demanding handouts and entitlement attitudes as though America owes them something for coming to America? Having my own personal family experience with SOME (not ALL) Eastern European immigrants with that very hostile attitude, I can say yes it DOES happen, it is not limited to any one segment of our immigrant population, and it seems to be on the increase. And sadly, the bad attitude of SOME immigrants bringing that entitlement mentality to their new nation ends up damaging the assimilation experience of others who ARE simply seeking a better life and a chance to earn their way in their new home. How is it racist or xenophobic to point to this very real FACT?

    LFOldTimer is correct, and many of us are TIRED of those who cannot form an appropriate debate response and choose instead to silence or demonize those they disagree with. Rather than air the OCBA’s familial dirty laundry in this quasi-public space in an effort to silence the OCBA’s new President, why not put those law degrees to work and discuss how there is not ONE SINGLE EXAMPLE of immigrants behaving badly toward their new American host country and therefore Mr. Baroni must be incorrect? Good luck. To do so one would have to overlook some incredibly bad, incredibly anti-American behavior exhibited by protestors during the recent Presidential election, and erase images that were broadcast on national media. Lacking the ability to dispute that SOME immigrants do indeed arrive in the US with a massive chip on their shoulders, one that is dragging down the hard working arrivals who want nothing more than to seek the American Dream, the loyal opposition of Mr. Baroni simply published unsubstantiated character attack against their organization’s new leader, ironically creating (or increasing) the very divisions they hang around the neck of Mr. Baroni. Sadly, those detractors also lifted the one segment of his message out of context, and simply took from the whole letter a negative viewpoint as a black and white all inclusive statement, while ignoring the genuine patriotism and praise for the heroes that made America the shining beacon it has been for centuries. That is just plain sad.

    If this one line of verbiage is ALL that these otherwise educated professionals are able to take away from Mr. Baroni’s heartfelt message of hope for America’s future, and his commitment to a better OC in his first letter as a new OCBA President, then I feel sorry for them. More importantly I will keep them in mind should I be in need of legal assistance in the future, because I want someone able to see the big picture, and not focus so exclusively on their own narrow views that they miss the larger message. To that end, if Mr. Baroni is forced to attend “bias training” I hope his accusers have their butts parked in the seats next to him, because they have missed the message in their hyper focus and self determination to be upset with their new President. Like I said, did he recently beat one of them or a friend of theirs in a contested seat?

    There are SO MANY very real issues to be alarmed about today, frankly this is “First World Problems 101.” Rather than manufacturing false offense at an out of context statement, I hope these detractors spend time searching for something not only to be bugged about, but maybe something they can commit time and energy to making the world a better place. What a concept.

    • Jacki Livingston

      I am not going to bother educating you on the FACTS that most immigrants, especially illegal ones, are not eligible to any handouts. I will tell you that the overwhelming majority of people with their hand out are white, middle class, undereducated, Red state, Trumpian sorts. Another fantasy of the regressives bites the dust.

      Thank GOD that 2018 will bring us CalExit and the secession of the West from Dumbeffistan. California will lead OR, WA, HI, NV and CO out of this failed experiment of a sociopathic nation, and we will finally be able to control our own destiny, instead of being locked into the failure of a former democracy, now democrazy, that is intent of destroying every good thing it ever stood for. And, when the West is free, we will be able to come up with humane, inclusive and intelligent immigration laws that encourage true diversity and welcome people who contribute. The original ideals of the fractured, dying thing that is this nation might actually be realized.

  • K2KR

    Give me a break. This column complains about stereotypes but uses the most worn out stereotypes of the decade, that of comparing anybody with whom you don’t agree to nazis and racists.

  • LFOldTimer

    If sworn licensed attorneys who are supposed to be the biggest proponents of law & order can’t see the difference in immigration patterns between what’s happening today and a generation or two ago – we’re all in big trouble. For God’s sake – take your blinders off!

    Whenever some leader of an organization offers a politically incorrect opinion on current events (even though it might be truthful) the knee-jerk reaction from the opposing side is to pummel him or her into submission and force an apology. It takes an incredibly strong-willed person to stand their ground and refuse to bend.

    Look what happened to Milo Yiannopolous at UC Berkeley. The new trend in America is to shut the opposition down.

    Once again, this opinion piece does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. That’s disingenuous. None of us have any problems with those who enter the country legally and maintain their legal status while on US soil. We welcome those who play by the rules with open arms. So stop commingling the two. Be frank and direct in your communication.

    Illegal immigration damages the social and financial structure of the nation. And it harms prospective legal immigrants who obey the laws and, as a result, are forced to stand in line for 10 years or longer because illegal immigrants steal the jobs that legal immigrants could work.

    Why aren’t attorneys writing op-ed pieces protesting sanctuary cities and those who violate our immigration laws? You’re officers of the court and are sworn to respect, honor and uphold our laws. Support your professional code!

    • David Resendez

      You speak utter non-sense. Two glaring examples: (1) none of us have problems with people that enter legally (alternative fact that requires you to remove your blinders) & (2) racist and xenophobic cards get played (these comments are exactly what the author says they are racist & xenophobic).

      • LFOldTimer

        Care to expound on (1)?

        Even the hardcore anti-immigration groups welcome LEGAL immigrants who play by the rules of law and enter invited through the front door as opposed to sneaking in uninvited through the back door. Just like citizens expect of immigrants in any civilized nation.

        Your statement is vague and confusing.

        Regarding (2):

        Your apparent definition of “racism & xenophobic” as it relates to Mr. Baroni’s column dilutes the actual meaning and impact of the words. You’re not doing any favor to those who have actually been victims of racism or xenophobia.

        Mr. Baroni made it clear that he values immigrants who assimilate into our culture and show gratitude and respect for the opportunities and freedoms that America offers.

        How is that racist or xenophobic?

        Put a lid on the hyperbole. Let’s have a real discussion minus the emotional stuff.

        • Jacki Livingston

          I have to disagree. They don’t want Muslims to immigrate legally. That is wrong. It is racist and xenophobic and you know that.