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Drexel named chief trial counsel

By Diane Curtis
Staff Writer

The State Bar’s new chief prosecutor has a question: Why are hotline complaints against California attorneys on the decline?

It’s an answer Scott Drexel will be seeking as he assumes the role of chief trial counsel of the bar, an appointment made by members of the board of governors at their March meeting.

Scott Drexel

“One of the things I’m wondering is if we’ve been doing all the outreach we’ve done in the past,” said Drexel, who moves to the prosecutorial arm of the bar’s lauded discipline system after 26 years at the Sta te Bar Court, the last 16 as chief court counsel. He also became the court’s administrative officer in 1995 and is the senior executive responsible for oversight of the bar’s Client Security Fund, the Office of Mandatory Fee Arbitration and the Office of Probation.  

The number of calls to the bar’s complaint hotline dropped from 156,290 in 2003 to 96,727 in 2004. “It’s still a lot of calls, but it’s a pretty significant drop,” said Drexel. While contemplating whether such outreach efforts as ads providing hotline telephone numbers in the attorney section of the Yellow Pages need beefing up, he emphasized that he won’t jump to conclusions and wants the answers to come from his new staff. 

A graduate of the University of Southern California and Hastings College of the Law, Drexel, 56, succeeds Mike Nisperos Jr., who did not seek a second four-year term. Drexel said he plans to serve at least two terms. He was chosen from 38 candidates and six finalists and “clearly emerged as the best qualified,” said State Bar Executive Director Judy Johnson. “He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the discipline system and is an exemplary manager and motivator of people.” The office, with a staff of more than 220, investigates about 4,000 cases a year. The nomination requires Senate confirmation.

State Bar President John Van de Kamp lauded the selection as “an outstanding appointment — a view confirmed by the board of governors after lengthy interviews with the top candidates.” Drexel “brings to the job a strong background in the State Bar disciplinary system and has strong support from members of the court as well as within the disciplinary staff.”

Drexel, who served in the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel from 1976 to 1986 before working three years in private practice, agreed that his knowledge of the disciplinary system gives him an advantage in the new job, which he hopes to assume in April.

“I won’t have a learning curve,” he said, noting that the State Bar’s mission of protecting the public will not be compromised during a transition. “Our rules, our case law, the way things work in the State Bar are very specialized.” He said he sought the job because he “was ready for a new challenge.”

As chief counsel and administrative officer for the State Bar Court, the well-liked Drexel oversees a staff of more than 60. He said he is especially proud that during his tenure, the state Supreme Court, which must approve bar disciplinary actions, has delegated more authority to the bar court.

He also cited as accomplishments the continued high quality of the court’s work and his part in creating the Alternative Discipline Program, which helps attorneys who may face disciplinary charges confront their substance abuse or mental health problems.

The “even and steady leadership that he showed over in the court will serve him very well as chief trial counsel,” said Joel S. Miliband, a vice president of the bar and co-chair of the board discipline committee.

Drexel lives in the Bay Area with Nancy, his wife of 32 years. They have a daughter, Jill, 28, a teacher, and a son, Scott Jr., 20, a student at the University of California at Berkeley. Drexel said he will keep his home in Northern California but spend most of his time as chief trial counsel in Los Angeles.

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