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Fran Bassios, architect of discipline system, dies

Francis P. Bassios, an architect of the State Bar of California’s unique attorney discipline system and a pillar of the bar for more than 30 years, died April 3 following a year-long illness.

Francis P. Bassios, an architect of the State Bar of California’s unique 
  attorney discipline system

Mr. Bassios, 59, lived in Oakland and, to the very end, demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the bar and the legal profession, traveling across the bay every day to his office in San Francisco until he was hospitalized. Just a week before that, he managed to travel to San Antonio, Texas, where his colleagues in the National Organization of Bar Counsel gave him the coveted President’s Award for extraordinary service to public protection and attorney regulation.

“Fran’s career contributions to the State Bar and to the field of attorney regulation are formidable,” said State Bar Deputy Executive Director Bob Hawley, a longtime colleague and close friend of Mr. Bassios. “This was his passion and professional life. He was proud of what he did and championed it.”

“I would say there were two sides to Fran,” added Jeff Dal Cerro, deputy chief trial counsel at the bar and another close friend. “At work he really valued excellence and he was always able to focus on the goal and he wouldn’t stop until he reached it. In his personal life, he was sentimental and gracious and funny. You really don’t know unless you had an opportunity to see that side of him what a kind and warm person he could be.”

For nearly two decades, Mr. Bassios served as the top assistant to the bar’s chief prosecutor, and in that role helped guide the State Bar through two political crises that threatened the bar’s existence.

In the late 1980s — when the legislature became frustrated with the State Bar’s voluntary discipline system and did not pass a dues bill that would allow the bar to collect money to operate — Mr. Bassios helped design and implement the State Bar’s professional discipline system. This led to the hiring of an independent chief trial counsel, aligned the prosecutorial and investigative offices and created the professional State Bar Court, effectively removing attorney discipline from the hands of voluntary judges and lawyers.

He then served as top assistant to four independent chief trial counsels and was acting chief trial counsel on various occasions.

While working as deputy chief trial counsel for Johnson in the late 1990s, Mr. Bassios helped guide the discipline system through an even worse crisis. When then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the bar’s dues bill for 1998, the ultimate effect was that 500 employees were laid off and the bar’s discipline system was shut down. Mr. Bassios helped bridge the political divisions during that crisis and, when funding was restored in late 1999, he worked with Johnson to rebuild the attorney discipline system.

In 2000, Johnson was named executive director of the State Bar, and she appointed Mr. Bassios as her special assistant. In that capacity, he helped restructure several different areas of the bar, including member services, continuing legal education, and legal specialization and certification programs. He had become the “institutional memory” of the State Bar and, as Johnson recently told the bar’s board of governors, “Fran can never be replaced.”

Dal Cerro called Mr. Bassios “kind of the arbiter of how we ought to conduct ourselves as an organization and as a profession. He really thought lawyers were special people and they owed something to society. They couldn’t give back to society unless they were ethical.”

Mr. Bassios came to California to attend law school at Hastings, an experience that left him longing to remain on the west coast, Dal Cerro said. “He liked the way we ate, he liked the way we drank, he liked that people here seemed to value their physical health and vitality. I think he thought that northern California was the center of the universe.”

Mr. Bassios was raised in Massachusetts, graduated with a degree in history and government from Boston University in 1966 and served in the U.S. Army from 1966-69. After receiving his law degree in 1972, he worked for a year in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office before joining the staff of the bar in 1973.

Mr. Bassios was also active in community affairs, most notably as a member of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. A sports fan, particularly of college basketball, Mr. Bassios often was frustrated by his inability to pick the winner of the NCAA basketball championship. He also loved cooking, cars and animals.

He is survived by his companion, Crystal Lee of Orinda, and her children, his sister Anastasia Petrides, M.D., of suburban Philadelphia, and several nieces and nephews.

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