California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - APRIL 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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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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Opinion
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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Discipline
Ethics Byte - More on the written agreement
Charges of grand theft, sexual battery lead to bar hearing
Attorney Discipline

OPINION

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Easy to destroy, hard to rebuild
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Judgment Day for Regis PhilbinThe State Bar of California is no longer twisting in the wind under the baleful gaze of Pete Wilson and the Sacramento lawmakers, but bad memories linger.

In 1997, the bar, which monitors and disciplines the state’s 136,000 practicing lawyers, was thrown into crisis when then-Gov. Wilson vetoed its annual dues bill. Wilson’s beef with the bar centered on what he deemed exorbitant dues. Part of those dues went toward funding bar activities, including lobbying and legislative analysis, that the governor considered inappropriate.

Although the bar is funded entirely by member dues — it receives no taxpayer funds — the legislature and governor must approve the annual rates.

Through early 1998, Wilson stonewalled all legislative efforts to compromise, draining the bar’s coffers by refusing to authorize dues collections. By June 1998, the bar was forced to lay off most of its staff, including lawyers who investigated and prosecuted complaints against bar members.

When Gray Davis succeeded Wilson as governor, he quickly agreed to revive the bar. Dues have been lowered somewhat, and the bar will fund its advocacy activities with voluntary contributions instead. Trouble is, the damage has been done. While the bar was mothballed, complaints against lawyers piled up, its treasury ran dry and laid-off employees found other jobs.

Although the bar is back in business, the climb to full strength will be long and slow. The group of 285 prosecutors who went after incompetent or unethical lawyers was slashed to 20, and new bar staffers will be less experienced and surely less efficient. Headway has been made against a backlog of 8,000 complaints, but remaining cases are formidable and new ones are being filed.

The bar’s travails and its slow return present an object lesson for Gov. Davis and his successors: It’s easy to tear down a valuable institution but very hard to rebuild it.

This editorial apeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 23.