California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - November 2001
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News / News Briefs
Applicants sought to oversee bar's diversion program
Let's have another cup of - legal advice
Foundation leads students to capital
Six honored for professional service
Warwick, six others named to California Judicial Council
Several thousand lawyers suspended for failing to pay dues, certify MCLE
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Trials Digest
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From the President - Remembering the fallen
The rule of law is our strongest weapon
Pro bono work is lawyers' duty
Letters to the Editor
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Law Practice - Success: The top eight requirements
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You Need to Know
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MCLE Self-Study
Planning for education expenses
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics Byte - Lawyers move on in usual way despite disaster
Former city councilman spent his son's settlement
Attorney Discipline
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Public Comment
ABA report
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Continued from Page 1
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currently comprises nearly 80 percent of the bar's annual budget.

In a report released in late August, the nine-member ABA panel cited two major reasons such a shift should take place: The control of discipline by elected bar officials creates an appearance of conflict of interest, which undermines public confidence; and because the bar is at the mercy of legislators and the governor for funding, the court's inherent authority over discipline also is undermined.

"The counter-argument is that having the Supreme Court assume responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of matters it ultimately will adjudicate presents another philosophical problem," said Judy Johnson, the State Bar's executive director.

The panel was quick to point out that the bar has "engaged in Herculean efforts" to rebuild its disciplinary system, essentially shut down during the 1998 dues crisis, but it felt that handing it over to the Supreme Court would ensure more stable funding.

Johnson said the report is the second such acknowledgment of the bar's efforts - this year's state auditor's report said much the same thing. The ABA panel was invited to investigate the discipline system by both the State Bar and the Supreme Court, and Johnson said its conclusion is more a reflection of its own value system than a criticism of California's approach.

Roughly half of states place attorney discipline in the hands of other agencies rather than house the systems at state bars, according to Fran Bassios, special assistant to Johnson.

California's discipline system is funded by State Bar dues, approved every one or two years by the legislature and signed by the governor. But a changeover would not mean lawyers would get a break in dues - they would just be sending their checks someplace else.

"The bottom line in terms of who pays for the discipline, wherever the system is housed, is lawyers - not taxpayers - are going to pay for it," Johnson said.

Johnson said that even if discipline was taken from the bar's purview, it would not be the "death knell" of the 176,000-member organization. The bar would retain several of its functions including program development, maintaining an ethics hotline and other duties designed to aid attorneys and enhance the profession.

Mike Nisperos: 'It's a political decision -- I will leave that to the powers that be.'But the recommendation does leave some question as to the bar's identity - if it gave up keeping its wayward members in check, what would the organization be?

"A collegiate association, like a fraternity or sorority," answered Mike Nisperos, the bar's chief trial counsel.

The ABA report also recommended that the position of chief trial counsel, Nisperos' job, be appointed by the Supreme Court, saying that control over both prosecution and adjudication would "promote public confidence" by underlining the agency's independence from the State Bar.

"It's a political decision - I will leave that to the powers that be," Nisperos said of the ABA's proposals.

"The office is one that can function well in either stead, and it's functioning well where it is. (So) if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The Supreme Court has so far refrained from commenting on the recommendations. Its staff released a general statement in September that "the court is not making any prejudgments on any particular issues discussed in the report."