is that its arguably the least
politicized branch of government. By sharing with the political branches, youre
politicizing the process.
take effect Nov. 1, 2000, when the terms of three hearing
judges and two review judges expire. However, the petition points out that it is unclear
who would appoint or reappoint the hearing judges the Supreme Court, the governor,
the Assembly speaker or the Senate president.
traditionally takes as long as nine months for the appointment process to run its course,
the judges asked the court to act quickly, since the process normally would begin Feb. 1.
The State Bar
Court was created by the legislature in 1989. The original judges were screened and
nominated by the bar board of governors and appointed by the Supreme Court. In 1995,
however, the court amended its rules removing the bar board from any involvement with the
disciplinary court. Instead, the court appointed its own screening committee to evaluate
petition, the judges argue that they act as special masters of the Supreme Court,
performing trial and interim appellate functions for the court. The amendments to the
Business and Professions Code, they said, will deprive the Supreme Court of its
inherent power to select, as its special masters in attorney disciplinary and regulatory
matters, the judges of the State Bar Court (including lay review judge) who meet its
expectations as to experience, temperament, objectivity, integrity and ability.
Since the bar
court was created, the Supreme Court has granted review in fewer than 10 discipline and
admissions matters. Such deference would not be appropriate if the State Bar Court
were not entirely a judicial branch court, the petition states.
The judges also
urged the court to reinstate the position of the non-lawyer review judge, arguing that
public involvement in attorney discipline is both traditional and crucial for the
preservation of public confidence in the system.
than two-thirds of the states have non-lawyers sitting with attorneys to adjudicate
disciplinary matters and the appointment of lay persons to handle attorney discipline has
long been a policy of the American Bar Association, the judges said.
Prior to the
passage of SB 143, former bar discipline monitor Robert Fellmeth expressed his opposition
to the bill because he feared the changes would politicize the bar court, which
needs public credibility above all.
. . .
The removal of the single public member among the three judges overseeing this system
would be antithetical to the consumer consciousness which has been the hallmark of your
public career, Fellmeth wrote in a letter to Burton, who would appoint one of the
hearing judges under the new law.
leaders and the judges were dismayed at the time Burton proposed changing the appointment
process, there was little they could do since the bill was double-joined to
the bars fee bill. Both bills had to pass for either to become law.
Norian has been
the bar courts lay review judge since 1989 and wants to be reappointed when his term
expires Nov. 1.
term also expires in November, and she too plans to seek reappointment. The terms of
review Judge Ronald Stovitz and hearing Judges Carlos Velarde and Madge Watai expire Nov.
1, but it is not known if they wish to be reappointed.
shutdown of the bars discipline system following Gov. Wilsons veto of the fee
bill in 1997, the eight judges took the position they could not be laid off because they
are not bar employees. They voluntarily shared the salaries of three judges and were later
Stovitz have worked 60 percent time since 1994.