California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - February 2000
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News Briefs
Appeal court denies bar's petition to reverse Brosterhous
Fee bill introduced
Bar fee arb program gears up
David Bryson, Loren Miller recipient, dies at 58
Board to name one to Judicial Council
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You Need to Know
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From the President - For our system to work, we need to be involved
Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
The illusion of a cosmetic fix
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
The Supreme Court and the ADA
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Access commission seeks members for 2 positions
Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Ethics Byte - 'Rampant' conflicts in a new economy
Attorney suspected of soliciting murder of bar prosecutor
Attorney Discipline
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Legal Tech - If the hype is right, ASPs are H-O-T
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Public Comment
Bar court judges
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Continued from Page 1
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is that it’s arguably the least politicized branch of government. By sharing with the political branches, you’re politicizing the process.”

The amendments 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.

Since it 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 applicants.

In their 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.

Further, more 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.

Although bar 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 bar’s fee bill. Both bills had to pass for either to become law.

Norian has been the bar court’s lay review judge since 1989 and wants to be reappointed when his term expires Nov. 1.

Lonsdale’s 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.

During the shutdown of the bar’s discipline system following Gov. Wilson’s 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 reimbursed.

Norian and Stovitz have worked 60 percent time since 1994.