can assure that they do not become a further
client of the discipline system."
A State Bar drug court is the brainchild of Mike
Nisperos Jr., recently named chief trial counsel. Nisperos formerly
was Oakland's drug czar and spearheaded the creation of that
city's drug court in 1991. Before he knew about the legislative
effort to establish a diversion program, Nisperos said, "I told the
board of governors this is something I wanted to do."
The bar will not have to reinvent the wheel in
creating a drug court - there are 688 nationwide and as of last
year, 132 in California, including 13 devoted exclusively to
Although the program is under construction, the
bar is using the national model as the basis for its
creation of a drug court. Under that model, it is likely that a
single judge will preside over a bar drug court as often as once a
week. Individual treat-ment plans would be created for each attorney
and would be overseen by a therapeutic team including the drug court
judge, prosecutor, counsel for the attorney and a probation monitor.
Programs require abstinence; frequent, sometimes
daily, drug testing; treatment requirements, ranging from detox to
residential treatment; attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics
Anonymous or a similar program; and incentives or sanctions related to
Nisperos said successful completion of a program
might be rewarded with shortened probation or no charges of
Discipline officials would like to get attorneys
into the court early in the process. Drexel and Nisperos indicated a
lawyer might be eligible before charges are filed. If charges have
been filed, however, an attorney might still be referred to the drug
court and avoid full-blown prosecution. The most likely candidates are
those who have been convicted of repeated driving under the influence
offenses or of drug possession or possession of drug paraphernalia.
Nisperos said he favors extending use immunity
- when a case is under criminal investigation, information provided
by the attorney would not be used against him or her.
"We can't go out and violate an attorney's
Fifth Amendment rights and we can't interrogate them," Nisperos
said. But he hopes the option of a drug court will encourage addicted
attorneys to acknowledge their problem and accept help.
Depending on the extent of the misconduct, not
every addicted attorney would be eligible for drug court. For example,
a lawyer who steals large sums of money from clients might be barred,
as would someone who committed an act of violence.
Nisperos, Drexel and James Obrien, the bar
court's presiding judge, have met with officials of the National
Association of Drug Court Professionals for assistance in creating the
new court. One or two judges are expected to attend a weeklong
training course offered by the Administrative Office of the Courts,
and several prosecutors also will undergo training.
There should be no shortage of customers. Of the
thousand attorneys on disciplinary probation with the bar at any one
time, about 300 have an alcohol or drug-related condition attached to
probation. Estimates of attorneys who have a substance abuse problem
range from a low of about 30 percent to a high in excess of 60
The bar has never kept formal statistics on the
numbers of addicted attorneys, but Nisperos said data collection will
be one aspect of the drug court project.
Bar officials also hope the court can operate
within the existing budget, although Nisperos and Drexel think
additional probation monitors might be needed. Additional costs also
might be incurred for attorneys who
cannot afford treatment.
In the long run, though, the bar expects to save
money by ultimately keeping lawyers out of the discipline system.