Thursday, May 26, 2011

State Bar (except for LAP Program) Gets Clean Bill of Health from Auditor

You couldn't tell from the title of the report, but the, State Bar of California just received its most positive report card in years from the state Auditor.

Every two years, as part of the deal (SB 144 of 1999) that that brought the State Bar back to the land of the funded following then-Governor Pete Wilson's veto of the 1997 Fee Bill, the State Bar is required to undergo a performance audit of its operations by the Bureau of State Audits (see B&P Code §6145). Historically, these audits have found fault with several aspects of the Bar's operations - most often with its discipline system and cost containment efforts. The 2009 Report, for instance, ran a full 88 pages, in which the Auditor detailed faults found with the Bar's "disciplinary system, discipline costs, cost recovery efforts, probation office,and responses to internal and external reviews."

In contrast, the audit of the State Bar released Thursday (May 26) runs a scant 36 pages, and is focused completely on problems the Auditor found with the Lawyer Assistance Program maintained by the State Bar (per statutory requirement) to assist California attorneys impaired by abuse of alcohol or drugs, or by mental illness, so that they are able to practice law competently. In fact, going by the report's title alone ("State Bar of California: Its Lawyer Assistance Program Lacks Adequate Controls for Reporting on Participating Attorneys"), one wouldn't know what the Auditor looked at more than this one program, let alone conducted an exhaustive performance audit (which it, of course, did).

In summary, the Auditor found that the LAP has poor monitoring procedures for ensuring case managers appropriately send reports of participants' noncompliance to disciplinary bodies, does not adequately ensure that case managers treat all noncompliance issues consistently, and doesn't have a good quantifiable measure for determining success.

And even the problems the Auditor found with the Lawyer Assistance Program (or LAP) have to be considered in context, because the program itself was completely overhauled by the Board of Governors just slightly over a year ago in order to address a number of problems that the Bar itself had identified with the program. Those changes, outlined in the program's annual report, included the adoption of completely new rules governing the program, in conjunction with a split of the program into two tracks (a voluntary track and a "monitored" track for attorneys who needed to participate in and complete the program to comply with a condition of discipline), and an overhaul of what was once an arguably too-lenient financial aid program. So in many respects, the program reviewed by the Auditor was essentially a new program.

In addition to the full report, the information produced by the State Auditor includes a Fact Sheet, Highlights, and a Summary of the report.

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