1,200 lawyers lose license

Nearly 1,200 California lawyers lost their license to practice last summer for failure to pay bar dues, comply with MCLE requirements or pay child and family support.

Officially, those who did not do MCLE were placed on "administrative inactive" status Aug. 12 by the State Bar's Board of Governors, and those who didn't pay dues or lag behind in family support were suspended.

The biggest scofflaws are those who don't pay their dues -- 885 -- followed by 284 who did not complete their minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirements, and 21 so-called "deadbeat dads."

By the end of September, the numbers who remained ineligible to practice were 701, 249 and 13 respectively.

This is the fourth year since MCLE requirements went into effect that attorneys have found themselves in trouble if they don't complete 36 education hours in a three-year period. But it is the first year they have to pay a $200 reinstatement fee.

That's in addition to the $75 late fee each must pay for proving their compliance after the deadline.

Once the fees are paid and the attorney documents compliance, he or she is returned to active status. But they have to undergo an audit, which can take up to five weeks.

The bar contacts MCLE providers to verify the attorney's certificates of attendance at classes. If the provider cannot do so, the attorney is given another 60 days to correct the problem or be re-enrolled inactive.

"We've made it more time-consuming and more difficult for an attorney to come back," says Jenny Jensen, compliance coordinator for the bar's Office of Certification.

Jensen says just under 1 percent of each compliance group misses the deadline. About one-third of those never do complete their hours.

"We think they probably will never come back," she said. "They're not practicing or we just can't find them."

The bar has collected $8,000 in re-enrollment fees this year, just enough to cover the cost of the audits.

Attorneys who do not do their MCLE hours usually have only themselves to blame. They receive two notices prior to the Feb. 1 deadline. Before the Board of Governors acts to lift their licenses, they get three more notices, one of them certified.

Next up is Compliance Group 2, whose last names begin with H-M. Their compliance period ends Jan. 31, 1997.

Group 1, last names A-G, has until Jan. 31, 1998, to finish their hours.

For those lawyers who lose their license because they don't pay their dues, the penalty is cheaper -- they are reinstated upon payment of the dues plus a late charge.

Those who are in arrears on their child and family support payments are released by the local district attorney once they pay up. The bar then moves for a reinstatement order from the Supreme Court.

Attorneys who do not pay a fee arbitration award make up a relatively new group which also is subject to involuntary inactive status, although their cases go before the State Bar Court.

Since 1994, when Business & Professions Code §6203(d) was enacted, four lawyers have lost their license for failure to pay the award and another 10 cases are pending.

The prospect of a $1,000 non-payment penalty usually is enough to force lawyers in that group to pay their fee arb award. Since the new statute was enacted, about 100 have ponied up when threatened with the penalty.