Burton agrees to amend fee bill to one year, setting dues at $458

by Nancy McCarthy
Staff Writer

The State Bar's dues legislation was passed by the state Senate May 28 after the bill's author promised to amend it from a two-year to a one-year measure when it goes to the Assembly.

Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco), the author of SB 1145, agreed to the change after tort reform advocates complained that the bar had taken a position in support of legislation to lift medical malpractice limits.

The Association for California Tort Reform opposes the dues measure because it believes the bar's support of the malpractice issue shows it is too politicized.

In a letter to legislators May 22, ACTR president John Su-livan said his organization opposes the dues bill, and further said dues should be reduced from the proposed $458 a year for most attorneys to $160 annually.

Sullivan said ACTR opposes the malpractice bill in question, AB 250 by Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, to lift the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. But he said the group is "looking at the broader issue of the politicization of the bar."

In a written statement, bar officials defended the board of gover-nors support of AB 250. "The original balance struck in 1975 by MICRA had, by 1997, become skewed," they said. "The vast majority of the lawyer board members who voted in support of AB 250 represent business interests or public entities.

"The board viewed AB 250 only as a modest step to restore the balance in certain egregious cases, rather than a statement endorsing the expansion or repeal of MICRA."

Apparently, ACTR's lobbying got quick results. Republican Sen. Tim Leslie of Roseville asked Burton just before the May 28 vote if he would agree to reduce the dues authorization to one year, and Burton agreed.

The dues measure passed by a vote of 21-13. Twenty-one is the minimum required for Senate approval of legislation.

Dues were decreased by $20 this year after the board of governors approved the reduction as part of several belt-tightening moves.

Proposed dues for 1998 would finance the bar's general fund budget of $59.4 million, with the discipline system accounting for $41.6 million or about 70 percent of the total, bar officials said.

The remainder of the budget includes $6.8 million for legal education, $4 million for communications, $2.8 million for the administration of justice, $2.2 million for bar relations and $2 million for legal services.