California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - April 2000
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News Briefs
Election schedule set for board, CYLA vacancies
Bar court judge appointments process to be reviewed
Newest board member dies
Ventura County mobile legal center cited by ABA
ABA offers three CLE programs
Bar, Western State plan annual ethics symposium
Penalty for late bar dues moved to April 28
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Legal Tech - UM: The leading edge of convergence
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From the President - Link starting salaries with service
Easy to destroy, hard to rebuild
2 trains on a collision course
Keep the judiciary independent
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
Viewing the Subdivision Map Act
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Public Comment
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Ethics Byte - More on the written agreement
Charges of grand theft, sexual battery lead to bar hearing
Attorney Discipline
Bar court judge appointments process to be reviewed
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The California Supreme Court will hear arguments early next month on a petition seeking to overturn recent legislation changing the way State Bar Court judges are appointed.

The high court agreed unanimously to review the validity of the new law, which critics believe politicizes the court that disciplines California attorneys.

Three bar court judges sought review of SB 143 in January, arguing that the new appointment process is an unconstitutional infringement upon the Supreme Court’s sole power to name the court’s eight judges. They also argued that the law intrudes upon the court’s inherent authority over attorney discipline.

The judges asked the court to declare SB 143 unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers provision of the California constitution.

Sponsored by Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, SB 143 amends the Business & Professions Code by transferring the appointment of three of five hearing judges from the Supreme Court to the governor, the Senate president pro tem and the Speaker of the Assembly. The measure also replaces the lay review judge with a judge who is an attorney.

The judges who petitioned the court are James Obrien, presiding judge, Nancy Roberts Lonsdale, a hearing judge, and H. Kenneth Norian, the review department’s lay judge. Lonsdale and Norian are seeking reappointment when their terms expire in November.

Because the terms of three other judges also expire in November and the appointment process usually takes up to nine months, the petitioners asked the court to expedite the case. Oral argument is scheduled for May 3.

In other action, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to Burton two days earlier when it reinstated a broader standard of review for appeals in bar court disciplinary hearings.

SB 143 had also limited the oversight provided by the bar court’s review department, an attorney’s last hope before a discipline recommendation goes to the Supreme Court for action. The court reinstated a de novo standard of review, which generally means an independent review does not have to focus solely on the record.

“The court believes that the heightened standard of review should provide more reliable and consistent disciplinary actions and recommendations by the State Bar Court,” the Supreme Court wrote.

The higher standard “relieve[s] the court of the burden of intense scrutiny of all disciplinary recommendations and provide[s] the court with a more complete record should it decide to exercise its inherent power over any disciplinary action.”