Bar Associations

California Assembly passes bill requiring state bar to reliquish control of its board to nonlawyers

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State Bar of California

The State Bar of California got a reprieve of sorts after the state assembly stopped short of passing a bill that would split up its regulatory and professional advocacy functions.

Instead, the Recorder (sub. req.) reports that the assembly passed a heavily amended bill Thursday that would give the state bar a major face-lift but does not mandate “de-unification” of the state bar into separate disciplinary and advocacy entities. The bill would mandate that the state bar’s board of trustees must include a majority of nonlawyers, and that, in order for the board to act, it had to have the approval of a majority of these nonlawyers. The bill passed 75-0 and will head to the state Senate for consideration.

“From my perspective, these amendments are the bare minimum we need to begin to right the wrongs that occurred due to the lack of oversight in the state bar,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco). The Los Angeles Times reported in May that a state audit questioned the California bar’s spending, compensation of its top executives and delays in processing ethics claims. Among other things, the bill would require the state bar to submit to yearly audits

After plenty of heated debate, the Assembly decided not to impose de-unification. The move disappointed some reformers who had advocated stripping the state bar of its power to self-regulate lawyers within the state of California.

“This is the minimum necessary for what might work as opposed to what we know will work,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Center for Public Interest Law, which was in favor of de-unification. “If this is the starting place of the conversation about real reform, this is a good day.”

The state bar isn’t out of the woods yet. The bill also contained a provision creating a nine-member Bar Governance Committee that could revisit the de-unification issue. The committee is expected to report back to the Assembly with its findings by April 2017.

According to the Recorder, state bar president David Pasternak said that he has not yet reviewed the bill. “We’re absolutely going to continue working with the Legislature,” he said.

Previous coverage: “Will California lawyers have to pay bar dues in 2017? Bill is rejected amid debate on state bar”

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