Future of the State Bar back where it started in 1927

by Kathleen O. Beitiks
Staff Writer


Kopp’s bill would abolish the State Bar and turn discipline over to the courts.

Hertzberg has said his bill would probably split the bar into voluntary and mandatory functions.

As to how the division would occur, details have yet to be worked out, but there is speculation that the Conference of Delegates would be funded with voluntary dues while regulatory functions such as discipline and admissions would be mandatory.

Bar officials consistently maintain that about 70 percent of its budget goes toward disciplining the state’s errant lawyers, while another 15 percent, they say, goes for related public protection programs.

In his harshly worded veto message, Wilson was critical of some issues the board of governors has supported, specifically an Assembly bill which would have raised the caps on certain medical malpractice awards.

He also took umbrage with some of the resolutions approved by the Conference of Delegates at the bar’s annual meeting last September. Among other things, he disagreed with the conference’s call to oppose castration for repeat child molesters, support reduced penalties for drug dealers and support same-sex marriages.

Despite an uncertain financial future, the board of governors approved the State Bar’s 1998 budget, but with the proviso that the executive director come back next month with a contingency plan in the event of a decrease in funding from the state legislature.

Meanwhile, requests for voluntary dues payments to keep the bar’s operations afloat resulted in a slow trickle of funds, with less than 10 percent of active attorneys sending in dues for 1998 by mid-December. Of that number, about 23 percent paid varied amounts of voluntary dues. About 20 percent of inactive members have paid their dues.

According to T. William Melis, the bar’s chief financial officer, the number of lawyers paying was “less than normal,” with payments arriving at a slower rate than usual. Bar officials said that due to the veto, the annual billing was sent out later than usual, accounting for some of the delay.

Most active attorneys would normally pay $458 in annual dues, but with Gov. Wilson’s veto, by statute the bar can mandate only $77 for some discipline costs, the client security fund and the building fund.