Time to end conscription


Thanks to the governor’s perspicacious veto of the dues bill last October, State Bar junkies must find their fix elsewhere. Like a centipede, State Bar leadership presumes its brand of “reason” will prevail and an urgency measure will be enacted to save it from dissolution this spring.

Emergency legislation, however, requires two-thirds approval of each house of the legislature, plus gubernatorial acquiescence and a fictitious finding that California will collapse if the dues bill isn’t instantly enacted. With a paleontographical attitude, State Bar leadership continues guilefully to claim it will reform its errant ways, while falsely alleging public protection and local ethnic and gender-based bar associations will disappear.

Former board of governors vice president Peter Keane analogizes the State Bar’s condition to the United States under the Articles of Confederation. Keane states: “Simply massaging and tinkering with the bar’s present form is a waste of time and cannot possibly move it out of the impasse created by the governor’s veto.” A Recorder editorial phrased it more piquantly: “The Bar should call the governor’s bluff,” adding: “… The State Bar should reconstitute itself as a private, voluntary association…that is free to be as politically active (read: anti-GOP) as it wants.” That’s Keane’s position and mine in Senate Bill 1371.

Compulsory State Bar membership must be abolished. Admissions and discipline can be transferred to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) without disruption. Admissions are self-funded. The AOC can operate discipline with lower lawyers’ fees than the State Bar demands. The State Bar assertion that 73 percent of its costs emanate from discipline is bogus. Many State Bar administrative expenses are deceptively attributed to discipline. That concealment won’t happen with a budget scrutinized by the legislative analyst and senate and assembly budget committees. An adjunct of our Supreme Court, the AOC, won’t conceal contrived costs.

Present State Bar employees can transfer to the AOC. California lawyers will pay a graduated fee for the net cost of AOC’s discipline costs. Illinois’ Regulation and Discipline Committee, an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court, charges no fee for the first year, $70 in the second year and $140 thereafter. Fees haven’t increased since 1988. The voluntary Illinois Bar Association dues are $40 to $220 annually depending on year of admission. Total Illinois fees are much less than State Bar assessments. In New York, the Court of Appeals governs discipline, while admissions are administered by the Office of Management Support. Lawyers must register every two years for $300. The voluntary New York State Bar Association charges no dues for new attorneys and a $235 yearly maximum for lawyers admitted before 1991.

My bill, SB 1371, authorizes a voluntary California bar association after transferring admissions and discipline duties to the AOC. If minimum continuing legal education survives court of appeal invalidation, it can be operated by the University of California or a private entity, probably at a profit. The client trust fund program may also be invalidated. A similar program in Texas awaits U.S. Supreme Court action. If it survives, the program should apply on a voluntary basis. Seizing interest belonging to clients for legal assistance to others represents an unlawful taking of property. No constitutional justification exists for taking client interest money and using it to fund social programs.

The voluntary California bar association can operate practice sections, a conference of delegates, magazine, newspapers, referral services and legislative advocacy programs. It can pay high salaries, hire $900,000 lobbyists, form ethnic, gender-based and sexual-orientation discrimination committees, a volunteers-in-parole program, a federal courts committee, and an appellate courts committee.

Let’s eliminate lawsuits over that amount of annual dues allocable to political and ideological expenditures, end the “closed shop” and release California lawyers from conscription. Enact SB 1371.

Sen. Quentin Kopp, I-San Francisco, spearheaded the plebiscite effort in 1996 to abolish the unified bar.