The State Bar Court, buffeted by a series of
setbacks over the last six years, is slowly getting back on its feet and seems on the road
to stability. Responsible for disciplining attorneys, the bar court came under fire from a
blue ribbon panel in 1994 for its gold-plated operations, suffered the
reversals visited on the entire bar by Gov. Pete Wilsons 1997 veto of the fee bill,
and finally was the subject of legislation challenged unsuccessfully before the
Supreme Court last year which changed the way its eight judges are appointed.
With the arrival of three new judges and a caseload that is returning
to normal, the court seems to be back up to speed.
I think the court now is relatively stable, says James
Obrien, presiding judge for five years. But I think there are some aspects of our
fundamental role that are very fragile, and the political machinations that have gone on
have really exploited that fragility. We need to be able to do our thing for a period of
time in order to stabilize the court.
We must always be concerned whether the legislature will again
intrude into the operations of the court.
When the bar shut down most of its departments in 1998, the court
completed all cases it had set for trial but abated almost everything else. Already
streamlining its staff, it was forced to lay off even more employees, and the eight judges
shared the salaries of three over the course of the bars shutdown.
Obrien said it is difficult to overestimate the effect of
Wilsons veto on the court. It was enormously disruptive to the operations of
this court and to the discipline system, he said. Because the court is a responsive
body, he added, it did not really experience a vacuum in its work until after the shutdown
ended, when it began to feel the effects of a dearth of cases.
As the bars Office of Trial Counsel files more cases, the courts
workload has increased correspondingly, and Obrien says the caseload now is close to
and two other judges also challenged