Some lawyers, law faculty and law students are questioning the Oregon State Bar's commitment to diversity after its award-winning affirmative action administrator resigned last month.
The bar's Affirmative Action Program is responsible for providing scholarships to minority law students and stipends for law firms to employ minority applicants, as well as administering mandatory diversity training for active bar members.
Program administrator Stella Manabe resigned Sept. 5, shortly after a management shake-up that took even the Affirmative Action Program's oversight committee by surprise. About eight members of Oregon's 165-member Minority Lawyers Association protested at the bar's board of governors meeting Sept. 28.
"I was disappointed that we were not consulted," says Affirmative Action Committee chair Amanda Mayhew, regarding the organizational changes that led to Manabe's resignation.
OSB Executive Director Karen Garst wouldn't comment on the decision to move Manabe from her high-profile administrator position to a position reporting to a midlevel bar membership office.
But former Board of Governors member Lauren Paulson says the change would create a worse situation for minority lawyers because it's a much less visible part of the bar.
Manabe didn't return calls for comment.
Manabe joined the AAP in 1996, overseeing a program funded by $30 in extra dues paid by each of about 13,000 active Oregon State Bar members. In 2003, Manabe received the American Bar Association's "Spirit of Excellence" award for creating Opportunities for Law In Oregon, or OLIO, a program that provides workshops and networking events for minority students at Willamette University, Lewis&Clark College and the University of Oregon.
Robert Klonoff and Margaret Paris, deans of the law schools at Lewis&Clark and the University of Oregon, respectively, co-signed a Sept. 27 letter to the bar's board of governors in support of Manabe, and praised the OLIO program as an invaluable tool for recruiting minority students.
"OLIO could be tremendously affected," says Mayhew of Manabe's absence. "We could definitely lose students of color in Oregon."
Adding to the worries about affirmative action's future at the bar: So far, very few résumés have been received for Manabe's downsized position, according to Mayhew.
One of the lawyers who spoke at the Sept. 28 meeting of the bar's board at Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach was Multnomah County assistant district attorney Kellie Johnson.
"With Stella gone, there is not one person of color making decisions at the bar," says Johnson of Manabe, who is of Hawaiian descent.
Johnson, a 1996 graduate of the University of Oregon's law school, got her first job working in a law office for $10 an hour because of the Affirmative Action Program's stipend to employers of minority students.
"To have your one representative removed for mysterious reasons is disappointing," says Johnson, who is black. "I think people of color will say, 'Why should I stay here?'"
Oregon's minority population is 13.4 percent, according to the 2000 census; the bar's minority membership is only 4 percent, according to the Oregon Minority Lawyers Association.