California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - July 2001
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News / News Briefs
Two-year fee bill goes to governor
Janet Reno, low-cost MCLE highlight Annual Meeting
Stanley Mosk dies at 88
State Bar wins ABA's Harrison Tweed Award for pro bono, legal access, IOLTA efforts
Foundation will accept grant applications beginning July 16
Winnebago of justice serves those on the road less traveled
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Trials Digest
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Legal Tech - Matter management is not just for litigators
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From the President - Public members bring fresh views
Holding judges accountable
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
Alcohol and the workplace
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics update...
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You Need to Know
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Public Comment
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Ethics Byte - Level field or a judicial practical joke?
Former DA disbarred for drunken-driving coverup
Attorney Discipline
Drug court
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Continued from Page 1
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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 juveniles.

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 progress.

Nisperos said successful completion of a program might be rewarded with shortened probation or no charges of misconduct.

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 percent.

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.