Wednesday, May 11, 2011

State Bar Fee Bill Approved on Procedural Vote; Much More to Come

This year's bill (SB 163) to extend the State Bar of California's authority to collect the member fees it needs to function was unanimously approved Tuesday (May 10) by the Senate Judiciary Committee on what was clearly a procedural vote to meet legislative deadlines, pending the issuance of an important report by the Bar's "Governance in the Public Interest Task Force" and some potentially important actions by the State Bar's Board of Governors this coming Thursday and Friday (May 12 & 13) in San Francisco.
Sen. Noreen Evans

Although SB 163 itself merely extends for one year the "sunset" clause on the statute (B&P Code §6140) authorizing the Bar to collect the lion's share ($315 of $410) of the fees paid by lawyers to maintain the Bar and its programs, the presentation of the bill by its author, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Noreen Evans, and the committee analysis of the bill both made it clear that many changes could be forthcoming before the measure is presented to Governor Brown for signature. In particular, Evans noted that SB 163 could well be amended to implement changes recommended by the Governance in the Public Interest Task Force established by the Bar pursuant to last year's Fee Bill, AB 2764 (Assembly Judiciary Committee). 

The Governance in the Public Interest Task Force was created to address legislative concerns that the Bar's Board of Governor's, which currently consists of 17 lawyer members elected by the state's lawyers and 6 public members appointed by the Governor and Legislature, was placing the interests of the legal profession above public protection in some of its recent decisions (see committee analysis of SB 163 for more detailed explanation).  The Task Force's initial report (another is due in three years, and one every three years thereafter) must be submitted to the Legislature on or before Sunday, May 15.  At its final meeting on May 5, the Task Force voted to approve a governance model very similar to the status quo, with elected lawyers holding 13 of 16 board seats, three more lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court, and six public members.  A minority report, recommending a smaller Board of Governors consisting of a slight majority of attorneys appointed by the Supreme Court and more public members, will also be included in the final report sent to the Legislature. The final report has not yet been released, but it is expected that the majority report will largely mirror this proposal, and the minority report this one.

Making things slightly more interesting, the Bar's Board of Governors will also be considering at it's Thursday/Friday meeting a controversial public protection-related proposal to post Consumer Alerts on the Profile Pages of attorneys who have been charged with the misappropriation of more than $25,000 in client funds.  The public (almost exclusively attorney) comment on the proposal has been almost universally negative, to the effect that posting accusations before conviction amounts to a pre-judgment of guilt - even if over 97% of the accusations ultimately lead to disciplinary action.  In light of the legislative displeasure with prior board actions on similar issues, the release of the Task Force report, and the long was the Bar's Fee Bill still has to go, there will be a lot of attention paid to the board's action.

No comments:

Post a Comment