California Bar Journal
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Supreme Court rejects bar court suit
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Staff Writer
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The California Supreme Court upheld recently enacted legislation permitting politicians to appoint three State Bar Court judges, ruling that the high court still retains its inherent authority over attorney discipline.

Writing for the majority in a 4-3 decision last month, Chief Justice Ronald George said the appointment by the governor and the legislature of three hearing judges does not violate the separation of powers doctrine because “it does not defeat or materially impair our authority over the practice of law.”

But in a stinging dissent, Justice Janice Rogers Brown accused her colleagues of ceding constitutional ground for the third time in three months. “The legislation examined here shows disrespect for this court as a coordinate branch of government,” she wrote. “The majority’s abject acceptance of such legislative impudence goes far beyond comity and cooperation. This is abdication.”

The law in question is SB 143, a measure sponsored by Sen. President Pro Tem John Burton that gives the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee one appointment each to the eight-judge State Bar Court, which presides over attorney discipline proceedings. Traditionally, the Supreme Court has appointed all bar court judges.

The legislation also replaces the non-attorney review judge with a judge who must be a lawyer. The measure was signed last year by Gov. Davis.

Three bar court judges, Presiding Judge James Obrien, Hearing Judge Nancy Roberts Lonsdale and lay Judge Kenneth Norian had asked the court to strike down the law, arguing that it violates the separation of powers doctrine and casts a political tinge on an impartial court.

But the majority disagreed, ruling the Supreme Court retains “our pre-existing powers to regulate and control the attorney admission and disciplinary system, including the State Bar Court, at every step.”

Creating in effect a veto power over the appointments, the justices kept in place a requirement that all bar court appointees be evaluated by a nomination committee named by the Supreme Court, and only those found qualified will be eligible for appointment.

In addition to that safeguard, the justices kept for themselves the authority to appoint the three review or appellate judges, and as a further assurance of competence, they noted the qualifications set forth for potential appointees under the new


Palmer Madden to lead bar as new president
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Easily understood, instructions such as these will be the rule rather than the exception if new jury instruction rules are adopted.Defeating three colleagues on the board of governors, Contra Costa County attorney Palmer Brown Madden was elected the 75th president of the State Bar last month. He will be sworn in at the bar’s Annual Meeting in San Diego in September.

Palmer B. MaddenMadden, 54, said he hopes that at the conclusion of his one-year term, the other board members will be able to “look back at what we did, not just at what Palmer Madden did. My hallmark is building consensus.”

A longtime partner with McCutchen, Doyle, Brown,  & Enersen, where he formerly managed the Walnut Creek office, Madden departed about a year ago to open a mediation service in Alamo. A graduate of Stanford University and Boalt School of Law, he primarily


Special admissions case awaits high court
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Justices of the California Supreme Court appeared reluctant to grant a law license to a prospective attorney with a serious criminal background, questioning whether his rehabilitation has been adequately established. Acknowledging the remarkable turnaround in the life of Eben Gossage, scion of a prominent San Francisco family but a man with a record of 17 criminal convictions, the court seemed troubled at a hearing last month by what a State Bar attorney described as his lengthy pattern of disregard for the law.

At issue in the case: what should be the standard of proving rehabilitation for applicants with a lengthy criminal history who seek first-time admission to the bar?

Although both the State Bar Court’s hearing and review departments recommended admission for Gossage, the Committee of Bar Examiners balked and took the case to the high court.

Gossage, 46, has shown a pattern of disregard and disrespect for the law for 20 years, committee attorney Andrea Wachter told the court. “There’s no question he changed the direction of his life, but rehabilitation does