Paralegals now defined by law will be
required to work directly for an attorney and meet certain qualifications.
No longer can an attorney simply bestow such a title on any
assistant. Nor can independent paralegals continue to call themselves such unless
they work for an attorney and meet the new standards for paralegals. Instead, they must
use a different title, such as legal document assistant.
The legislation, AB 1761 (Brewer, R-Newport Beach), also establishes
the nature of a paralegals job and requires paralegals to fulfill continuing legal
education requirements to maintain their title.
SB 1782 (Morrow, R-Oceanside) focuses on the issue of attorney
reciprocity. The legislation expresses the legislatures desire that the Supreme
Court adopt admission rules that would allow out-of-state attorneys to join the State Bar
without taking the California bar examination under certain circumstances.
The legislation also requests that a Supreme Court-appointed task
force recommend the circumstances under which an out-of-state attorney could receive
In the interim, the legislature recently authorized, through the
enactment of SB 2153 (Schiff, D-Pasadena), a five-year extension of the State Bars
out-of-state attorney arbitration counsel program, which allows out-of-state attorneys to
seek permission to represent clients in California arbitration proceedings.
The State Bars fee bill, AB 1367 (Schiff, D-Pasadena, and
Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys), authorizes the bar to collect $395 in fees next year from most
active attorneys. The measure also continues the scaling option for attorneys whose annual
earnings fall below $40,000.
In November, however, the State Bars board of governors voted
to voluntarily cut attorney fees by $50 in light of a $15 million budget surplus. (See
story on page 1.)
A series of bills bolsters the court system. Gov. Gray Davis recently
gave his stamp of approval to legislation creating 32 new judgeships 20 trial and
Previously, only 26 new judgeships (less than 2 percent of the
judges) had been added in the 13 years leading up to the legislation (SB 1857, Burton,
D-San Francisco, and Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys).
In contrast, general jurisdiction filings in the trial courts have
increased more than 40 percent in the past two decades, while complex, resource-intensive
cases, such as criminal felonies, have jumped more than 190 percent.
New legislation also offers a financial incentive to judges who
remain in public service after reaching their maximum retirement benefit level. AB 1955
(Migden, D-San Francisco) authorizes 20 percent bonuses for such judges, as long as the
judge is at least 60 years old, has 20 years of experience and remains on the job for an
additional three years.
And for the first time since 1957, California jurors got a pay raise
this year from $5 a day to $15. AB 2866 (Migden, D-San Francisco) earmarks $19.2
million for the higher fees.
Earlier this year, Chief Justice Ronald M. George noted that the
jurors $5 rate was among the lowest in the nation. Addressing the legislature in
March, George pointed out that the juror response rate in some California counties has
dropped to as low as 6 percent.
Could it be that our failure to treat jurors with respect and
to show our appreciation of their valued service has led to their lack of interest in the
process? he asked.
Other jury-related legislation focuses on attorneys who investigate
allegations of jury misconduct. When interviewing former jurors, investigating attorneys
will now have to inform the juror of his or her absolute right not to discuss
deliberations or the verdict.
In addition, AB 2567 (Jackson, D- Santa Barbara) requires
investigating attorneys to disclose their connection to the case and the interview topic.
Also catching the attention of the legislature this year were
conflict-of-interest issues arising out of a 1999 decision (State Farm Mutual Auto
Insurance Co. v. Federal Insurance Co.).
AB 2069 (Corbett, D-Hayward) calls for a State Bar-conducted study
into the legal and professional responsibility issues that may arise when an
insurer retains an attorney to represent an insured and that attorney is subsequently
retained to represent someone else against another party insured by the insurer. A report
and any recommendations for changes to the Rules of Profes-sional Conduct are due next
In the area of criminal law, Gov. Gray Davis recently signed what has
been touted as landmark legislation expanding the use of DNA testing.
Under SB 1342 (Burton, D-San Francisco), imprisoned felons can
request DNA testing in seeking a new trial. (The request would have to meet certain
Another bill AB 2814 (Machado, D-Linden) allows law
enforcement to compare a suspects DNA profile with evidence from unsolved crimes. In
the past, such DNA sampling has been limited to convicted criminals.
DNA testing will assure to all that the guilty are truly guilty
and the innocent truly innocent, the governor said in a statement. Moreover,
those of us who believe in the death penalty have a special burden to ensure that those
convicted of capital crimes are, in fact, guilty.
Among this years derailed bills was a proposal seeking to shut
down so-called trust mills. The bill AB 1138 (Strom-Martin, D-Santa
Rosa) would have prohibited the unauthorized practice of law in connection with
living trusts and other estate planning services.
In addition, Gov. Davis vetoed a proposal to eliminate the baby
bar (the first-year law students examination, whose passage is required of students
attending Californias unaccredited law schools.)
In vetoing AB 1042 (Cedillo, D-Los Angeles), the governor pointed out
that the baby bar was established to protect those individuals ill-suited for a
legal career from expending further time, money and effort, and to provide others with the
opportunity to measure the quality of the education from unaccredited law schools.