The measure was scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary
Committee April 27, along with SB 757, authored by longtime bar critic Sen. Bill Morrow,
The biggest impact of the Schiff measure is the reduction in the number of hours
required under the minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) program from 36 to 25. The
four-hour law practice management requirement would be eliminated, and required ethics
hours would drop from eight to four.
The exemption for retired judges would end, but exemptions for California lawmakers and
full-time law professors, the target of litigation before the California Supreme Court,
The First District Court of Appeal ruled in March 1997 that the MCLE program violates
the equal protection rights of members of the bar who are not exempted.
The bar's appeal of the ruling in the case, Warden v. State Bar of California, is set
for oral argument before the high court June 2.
Marshall said it is clear that attorneys throughout the state are dissatisfied with the
MCLE program and that such sentiment must be ad-dressed, regardless of legislation or
litigation. At the board of governors last month, he emphasized the need to create a
commission to review all facets of the program, including the number of units, types of
units and how courses become certified.
If the bill passes:
The bar would remain governed by a mostly elected
board of lawyers.
The Conference of Delegates and educational
sections would remain part of the State Bar, but would be self-funded.
The IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts)
program, which provides funds for legal assistance to the poor, and the Commission on
Judicial Nominees Evaluation are unaffected.
The State Bar Court remains under the aegis of the
State Bar and is not transferred to the Supreme Court, as proposed by reformers last year.
The Schiff measure provides for an annual $395 fee and changes the criteria to request
a fee reduction.
The current three-tier dues structure - based on the number of years an attorney has
been in practice - would be eliminated by SB 144.
Instead, attorneys earning less than $25,000 a year will be entitled to a 50 percent
reduction in dues, and those who make less than $40,000 will receive a 25 percent break.
And although it imposes no restrictions on the subject matter of lobbying, the bill
does offer attorneys an opportunity to prevent their dues from being used to lobby issues
which do not fall within the purview of the Keller v. State Bar of California decision.
(In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of using mandatory fees
to fund activities related to the regulation of the legal profession or improvement of the
quality of legal services. In certain instances, however, it may not use compelled fees
over a member's challenge.)
The bar's legislative activities were a focus of Wilson's veto and an obstacle to
resolution of the funding crisis last year.
Morrow's bill imposes restrictions on bar lobbying, separates the Conference of
Delegates from the bar and requires it to be self-funded, requires the bar to comply with
any U.S. or California supreme court rulings on the IOLTA program, and leaves the future
of MCLE in the hands of the state Supreme Court.
The Assembly version of Morrow's bill (SB 757), authored by Dick Ackerman, R-Fullerton,
died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee last month.