|With its coffers partially refilling, the State Bar began to
revive its attorney discipline system last month with a series of streamlining moves aimed
at reducing the burgeoning case backlog as quickly as possible.
New priorities giving
the bar's chief prosecutor substantial discretion will permit the office to concentrate on
the most serious cases and dispose of others more quickly. And emergency amendments to
some State Bar Court rules will speed disposition of cases by consolidating multiple
matters and encouraging early settlement.
All the changes were made with an eye toward fostering public confidence in the
discipline operation as well as enhancing the rights of attorneys who are charged with
Elwood Lui, a former appellate justice who was appointed by the Supreme Court as a
special master to oversee the $173-per-lawyer discipline assessment, told the board of
governors that the changes are non-controversial and represent a start toward generating a
more focused attorney discipline system.
"The former practices and policies won't work," Lui said. "Now is the
time to undertake the structural change which I think is necessary."
Pointing out that the complaint telephone lines, when fully funded, receive 140,000
calls annually, Lui said it is critical to inform complainants quickly whether their case
will even be investigated.
Under the old system, after all complaints have been investigated, only about 1,000
attorneys were charged with misconduct every year. Lui and the State Bar recommended
changes that will increase the rights of both the consumers who bring actionable
complaints and the attorneys who are their targets. Both will receive quicker discovery
and the possibility of an early evaluation by a neutral judge.
Because the discipline operation