Dec. 3, the California Supreme Court granted the State Bar's request for emergency funding
to revive the attorney discipline system. In its unanimous ruling, the court addressed the
three questions to which it had sought answers when it agreed to hear requests for
intervention from both the State Bar and former Gov. Pete Wilson:
It found that the State Bar is an arm of the Supreme
Court, and that the court has primary and inherent jurisdiction over the practice of law,
including admission to the profession and attorney discipline. That power permits the
court to order a regulatory fee when required.
It decided the court must act immediately because
without an attorney discipline system, both public protection and the integrity of the
profession are at risk.
There are no alternative sources of funding to
support the discipline operation, and therefore members of the bar must pay to police
In other words, the Supreme Court was in full agreement with the State Bar's position
that we are in a state of emergency. It granted our request for $171.44, plus $1.56 to
support the work of a special master, a concept with which we are in complete agreement.
I am grateful to the court for its ruling, and I am proud of the bar's attorneys who
prepared our case.
The Supreme Court made very clear, and the bar very well understands, that the court's
order that all active attorneys pay the special discipline assessment is interim in
nature, and that $173 amounts to only partial funding. The money generated by the
assessment means that about 65 percent of the previous discipline operation can be
restored. In the words of one of our supporters at the court hearing, this money will not
buy a Cadillac.
Just as the Supreme Court met its responsibility, so must the State Bar now meet our
responsibilities. Serious problems remain and must be addressed as expeditiously as
possible. The board of governors must reach agreement on its priorities and obtain
legislative and member support quickly.
My goal is to seek legislation in the next session in order that we can begin to
resolve our problems quickly. I believe we owe it to our members and to the public to
restore as many State Bar operations as possible as soon as we can.
In doing so, we must address the issues our many critics have raised in recent years.
We must and will meet with them and negotiate in good faith.
We will try to make reasonable compromises and reach sensible accommodations. We will
operate more efficiently and with more accountability than in years past.
At the same time, I will not abandon our core values. I believe the State Bar must
remain mandatory, unified and self-governing.
For decades, we have addressed issues concerning the administration of justice with
expertise and wisdom.
Who better to assist the legislature with drafting and analyzing laws than the
individuals who practice and uphold those laws?
At the same time, we must address the question of whether it is fair and appropriate
that the Conference of Delegates and the educational sections, the bodies which most
frequently perform those tasks, should become self-supporting.
In addition, attorneys must continue to govern our own profession.
Our existing board of governors structure - elected attorneys and appointed public
members - is a model that promotes both the democratic process and consumer involvement.
An appointed board would be more, not less, political than the existing structure.
These are serious issues. We must talk about them with lawmakers.
I do not believe in gridlock politics, and I do not want the State Bar to be blamed
unfairly for the failure to reach accord on any of the divisive matters that torpedoed
I want to use the lessons of the past year, and, if possible, reach agreement and
achieve bipartisan support.
It is time to move on.