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Davis signs fee bill; most will pay $390

Gov. Gray Davis signed the State Bar's fee bill last month, leaving dues for California attorneys flat for the fifth consecutive year. Most active lawyers will pay $390 next year and inactive lawyers will pay $50.

AB 1708, authored by Assembly-woman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, also restructures the way lawyers can scale their dues, requiring them to include all earnings, rather than just money from the practice of law, in their income. Scaling, originally intended to help lawyers who earn less than $40,000 a year, has led to an annual loss of about $3.4 million for the bar. With the change, the loss is projected at $2.7 million next year.

Some high-income arbitrators and mediators take advantage of the scaling option, claiming their income does not derive from the practice of law. The bill narrows that loophole by requiring them to pay full dues.

For active lawyers, the base fee is $310. In addition, they pay $35 to the Client Security Fund, $25 to the disciplinary system, $10 to a building fund and $10 to the Lawyers Assistance Program.

Attorneys may deduct $5 each from a fund for lobbying and a fund for bar relations and the elimination of bias. They also can contribute, through the dues bill, to the Foundation of the State Bar, the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations and the California Supreme Court Historical Society.

The bar will offer the option of online dues payment this year. Full instructions will be included in the bills, which will be mailed Nov. 14.

Although the bar hoped to increase its fee revenue by boosting the amount paid by inactive lawyers, there was little sympathy for such a move in Sacramento and it was dropped.

Bar officials say the organization is operating on a bare-bones budget and laid off 16 employees during the summer. Although new President Tony Capozzi said an increase in bar dues would be a last resort, he left open the possibility for next year.

The dues bill also enhances the bar's ability to recoup costs assessed against disciplined attorneys and money paid out by the Client Security Fund. Such costs can be treated as a money judgment, giving the bar a new avenue to pursue collection.

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