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State bar says sole aim of legislation allowing it to levy fines for UPL is to protect the public

Posted Apr 29, 2014 3:50 PM CDT
By Victor Li

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The State Bar of California has struck back at claims that the association’s efforts to expand its enforcement powers to prevent the unauthorized practice of law are unnecessary and a money grab.

In a letter to the Sacramento Bee that was published Tuesday, bar association president Luis Rodriguez reiterated that his organization’s efforts are solely for the purpose of protecting the public from non-attorneys improperly practicing law. The bar had thrown its support behind a 2013 bill in the California State Assembly which would have allowed the bar association to levy fines and collect legal fees against people engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Rodriguez had taken issue with an editorial in the Bee from April 22, which argued that the bill was superfluous since the unauthorized practice of law is already a crime. The previous editorial also cited accusations that the bar association wanted to use the bill as a means of squeezing money out of nonmembers as well as cracking down on do-it-yourself legal form providers.

“This was done in the face of overwhelming evidence of harmful conduct by nonlawyers exploiting immigrants’ hopes of immigration reform by Congress,” Rodriguez said in the letter. Rodriguez also stated that the money collected under its proposed powers would go to a restitution fund for victims of nonlawyers. “None of the money would go to the State Bar,” said Rodriguez. “Nor would the bar collect attorney’s fees.”

The previous bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2013. “We already have adequate enforcement mechanisms and remedies to stop the unlicensed practice of law through the existing powers of the State Bar or through the authority of the attorney general and local prosecutors to bring civil and criminal actions,” Brown said in his veto statement. The earlier editorial claimed that earlier this month the bill's supporters had tried to slip the same provisions into a different bill while Assembly members were on spring break in the hopes that no one would notice.

Rodriguez, however, took issue with that claim, stating that the bar was seeking to formally reintroduce the bill and that the bill would go through a full slate of hearings in both the Assembly and the California state senate.

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