A story in Monday's Washington Post incorrectly reported that Ellen Broadman is the director of the Washington office of Consumers Union. Mark Silbergeld is the director; Broadman is a staff attorney there.
RICHARD LOHMEYER SPENT one year drafting a simple, easily understood page-long document creating a public interest group to promote the use of everyday English in legal papers.
In order to register the group with the D.C. government and get tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, he had to go to lawyers. They sent back a 5 1/2-page article of incorporation that began, in true legalese:
"We, the undersigned natural persons of the age of 21 years or more, acting as incorporators of an incorporation, adopt the following acts of incorporation for such corporation pursuant to the District of Columbia Nonprofit Corporation Act."
For the last five months, Lohmeyer and his associates -- including Ellen Broadman, a lawyer who runs the Washington office of Consumers Union, and Paul L. Sailer, who is trying to bring simple English to the Federal Trade Commission -- have been sending drafts back and forth to the lawyers to get a version that will satisfy IRS and be easily understood.
They think they have succeeded. The new preamble, for instance, reads articles of incorporation under the District of Columbia Nonprofit Corporations Act."
Lohmeyer's experience illustrates the problems of trying to get complex legal documents written in easily understood English. Lawyers tend to fall into a pattern of writing a language called legalese that is drummed into their heads from the first day in law school.
Moreover, the legal documents have to cover all the points called for in the law -- a major failing of Lohmeyer's first attempt -- which leads lawyers to repeat words and phrases of legal baggage that have been approved by courts and agencies in the past.
The Plain Talk document, for example, has to meet requirements of the IRS in order to be able to get donations that can be deducted from the givers' taxes.
"There are certain bases that have to be touched. That first paper would have fallen short," said Frank M. Chapper, a lawyer with the top Washington tax firm of Caplin and Drysdale, which volunteered its services to help Plain Talk get incorporated.
Beyond that, Chapper, a former IRS official, said he generally uses language the tax people "are comfortable with. "You know what they want and you try to give it to them."
"They are more likely to approve it fast if they see something they are familiar with," said Thomas A. Troyer, a partner in Caplin & Drysdale who worked on the incorporation papers with Chapper and Stafford Smiley.
Chapper cited a case in which he was challenged by the IRS because he failed to follow the customary language even though he met all the requirements of the law. He eventually won, but said, "If this is what they want it's easier to give it to them than argue."
Getting readable incorporation papers was a political statement for Plain Talk, and the Caplin & Drysdale attorneys accommodated them.
"I give them high marks," Lohmeyer said. "I wonder what kind of marks they give us?"
"The final articles," Troyer said, "are better than the articles we usually do. They are a pleasure to read. They are clear declarations using the active voice most of the time."
The flap over the nomination of Carin A. Clauss, the Labor Department's top legal officer, to be a federal judge will not go away -- even after she asked President Carter not to renominate her because of the controversy.
The Justice Department now acknowledges that Attorney General Griffin Bell believes Clauss was indiscreet in writing a letter supporting the position of a lawyer who is a member of the D.C. Judicial Nominating Commission that was about to look into her qualifications.
But after talking to Clauss about the letter, Bell was convinced she had done nothing that was improper. "It was an appearance problem," said Justice Department spokesman Terrence B. Adamson.
That appearance of impropriety also carries over to Michael Gottesman, the attorney on the nominating commission who solicited the letter, Adamson said.
He denied that Bell engineered Clauss' decision to pull out of the running for a judgeship. "He never asked her to withdraw. She thought about it and decided she didn't want to go forward," Adamson said.
Joseph Tydings, chairman of the nominating commission, said Gottesman's vote was not a factor in Clauss being recommended to the president. "She was very, very impressive in her presentation (to the commission) and she turned around a lot of people," the former Maryland senator said.
A footnote: The key letter concerns a suit that Joseph L. Rauh Jr., a well-known liberal Democratic attorney here, had filed against Gottesman's client, United Steelworkers of America, for legal fees in a dispute in which Rauth represented a group of dissident union members.
The nominating commission, incidently, has its work cut out for it in picking candidates for two newly-created seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals here -- one of the most important judicial circuits in the country because of the large number of major federal cases that land there.
Applications for the two vacancies have been completed by 97 persons from 32 states, the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Because the court handles so many national issues, Bell solicited suggestions from across the country.In all, 235 names were put forth, but 138 of them decided not to complete application.
The commission will make its recommendations to President Carter by March 1.
Interest among lawyers in developing expertise -- or publicizing it -- in China trade law remains high. Joseph S. Fontana reports that 150 lawyers have signed up already for a Federal Bar Association U.S. China-Trade Law Conference in San Francisco on April 30-May 1. The conference is limited to 300 participants.
Moreover, no experts have refused to be on the panels and Fontana is flooded with requests from China trade lawyers who want to speak even though the conference takes place right in the middle of the Canton Trade Fair time.