|State Bar officials were guardedly optimistic last month that the Supreme
Court would grant their petition to order California attorneys to pay $171 each to keep
the foundering discipline system afloat.
"I'm not a betting man," said
President Ray Marshall, "but it's clear the justices understand the issue. I hope the
answer is yes."
In an unusual hearing Nov. 9, the seven justices heard testimony from 15 speakers on
the issues of whether the court has the authority to order a regulatory assessment and
whether it should do so.
The $171 would be in addition to the $77 annual fee the bar is authorized by statute to
Chief Justice Ronald George and Justice Joyce Kennard seemed inclined to favor an
interim assessment, perhaps to be overseen by a special master appointed by the court. The
justices suggested that such an arrangement would be stopgap in nature and remain in
effect only until the legislature acts and some level of funding for the bar is restored.
The court did not state how it will rule on the bar's petition or when it might act.
Marshall told the court the bar's attorney discipline system has been gutted as a
result of Gov. Pete Wilson's October 1997 veto of its dues bill. "We have a crisis
situation," he said. "California lawyers stand unregulated."
There is now a backlog of nearly 7,000 cases, with another 500 complaints arriving at
bar offices every two months. Without any funding, Marshall said, there will be 10,000
uninvestigated cases backed up at the end of 1999. "You are our court of last
resort," he said. "Each day of delay is another day of harm."