California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - February 2000
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News Briefs
Appeal court denies bar's petition to reverse Brosterhous
Fee bill introduced
Bar fee arb program gears up
David Bryson, Loren Miller recipient, dies at 58
Board to name one to Judicial Council
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You Need to Know
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Opinion
From the President - For our system to work, we need to be involved
Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
The illusion of a cosmetic fix
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
The Supreme Court and the ADA
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Appointments
Access commission seeks members for 2 positions
Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - 'Rampant' conflicts in a new economy
Attorney suspected of soliciting murder of bar prosecutor
Attorney Discipline
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Legal Tech - If the hype is right, ASPs are H-O-T
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Public Comment
Bar court judges fight new law
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By NANCY McCARTHY
Staff Writer
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Three State Bar Court judges petitioned the Supreme Court last month to overturn legislation which changes the way judges are appointed to the court that disciplines California attorneys.

The new appointment process is an unconstitutional infringement upon the Supreme Court’s sole power to make the appointments as well as an intrusion upon the court’s inherent authority over attorney discipline and admissions, the judges argued.

They asked the court to declare the legislation unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers provision of the California constitution.

The petition was filed by James Obrien, presiding judge of the bar   court, Kenneth Norian, the review department’s public or non-attorney member, and hearing judge Nancy Roberts Lonsdale. One of the judges’ attorneys, Timothy J. Fox, said the State Bar is not involved in the litigation, nor is it paying any of the judges’ legal expenses.

Introduced by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and signed by Gov. Gray Davis last year, the legislation (SB 143) amends the Business & Professions Code by transferring the appointment of three of five hearing judges from the Supreme Court to the governor, the Senate president pro tem and the Speaker of the Assembly.

The judges asked the court to issue an order permanently barring the three from making any appointments.

The amendments also replace the lay review judge with a judge who is an attorney.

“Our main concern is that the method by which the new judges are selected is unconstitutional,” said Fox. “Perhaps the flaw in the process is that it removes from the Supreme Court its traditional power to discipline attorneys. One reason attorneys are disciplined by the Supreme Court

See BAR COURT JUDGES


Appeals judges appear unswayed by new challenge to MCLE program
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Another challenge to the State Bar’s continuing education requirements came under sharp questioning last month by a panel of appeals justices who seemed unconvinced that some education classes violate the First Amendment.

Challenging requirements in substance abuse, elimination of bias and emotional distress, Oakland attorney Mark Greenberg also argued that the classes are not germane to the practice of law.

But State Bar attorney Dina Goldman responded that education “is clearly germane to the State Bar’s purposes” and the nature of the minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) classes is not political.

The hearing before the First District Court of Appeal came in a case originally filed in 1991.

Goldman said she believed the justices accepted the bar’s arguments that the special requirements “have a strong relationship to the bar’s purposes of regulating the pro-

See MCLE CHALLENGE


Free legal advice via the Internet could cross lines
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You've Got Legal Advice!First it was personal finance, then medical experts and now the legal profession is feeling the Internet howling at its door. Several months ago, a Maryland start-up company called USLaw.com and California-based FreeAdvice.com launched live lawyers chatting online as a free service to consumers — paid attorneys answering legal questions from anyone who logs on to those sites.

They join a growing number of Internet law ventures trying to make money by helping people get instant information online from a profession often considered less than consumer-friendly. Law industry sources say other “live-lawyer” sites are in development, with hopes of making money by, for example, selling ads, legal forms or enhanced listings for lawyers.

“People are intimidated by the legal process,” said USLaw.com chief executive Neal B. Simon. “They think it’s too costly and time-consuming. We provide people with the ability to easily understand legal issues and get solutions to their problems.”

But experts say USLaw.com and competitor FreeAdvice.com are treading on delicate terrain as they try to restrain their lawyers from giving specific legal advice, a move that regulators might consider the actual practice of law.

If the online lawyers were practicing law, the state bar associations have a host of rules the lawyers have to follow—such as dispensing advice only in states where

See ONLINE ADVICE