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And the work goes on

By Howard B. Miller
President, State Bar of California

“Nothing Concentrates the Mind Like the Prospect of Being Hanged” — Samuel Johnson

Howard B. Miller

The veto

How should we deal with the crisis of the Governor’s veto of the State Bar dues bill? The most important thing to do is to think through our values and purposes and be true to both in dealing with the crisis and with how the organization functions. And then we must not let the crisis paralyze us but continue to work on all the important missions of the bar.

Our response must start with the basic value of candor and honesty. And that compels us, however uncomfortable for the organization, to take the Governor’s comments seriously. To that end, we have appointed several special working group committees to examine the State Bar organization as thoroughly as possible. The first working group is a management review committee, chaired by one of the Governor’s appointees to the board, Jeannine English, who for 10 years was executive director of the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency that investigated state government operations to promote efficiency and economy. She will work closely with our Audit Committee, chaired by Laura Chick, also appointed to the board by the Governor, and currently also Inspector General of California, to do a top to bottom review of every aspect of management and finances of the organization. Other groups are focusing on the Governor’s concerns about the JNE Commission, both the leak of the rating of Justice Poochigian and separately the standards and policies of the commission.

But as we act on the immediate dues bill crisis we also have to continue to function, and we are.

Public protection

We face one of the greatest public protection challenges the State Bar has ever faced. We continue to be inundated with complaints about lawyers who, in the current loan default environment, continue to have taken advance payments from clients, done nothing and the money is now gone. The number of such lawyers, I am saddened to tell you, is in the hundreds, and growing.

Our office of Chief Trial Counsel is vigorously pursuing these lawyers. Many have now resigned their law licenses and others are the subject of enforcement actions. We are also working closely with other government agencies, including the California Department of Real Estate, the FTC and other state and federal agencies on enforcement and also providing warnings to homeowners. Under Senate Bill 94, endorsed by the State Bar, lawyers and others can no longer take any advance payment for representing homeowners in loan modifications.

There is on the State Bar Web site a FAQ answering questions about SB 94. The core of the problem of fraud in legal representation in loan modifications was the advance payments, and SB 94 was supported to protect not only clients, but the growing harm done to the profession.

Rules Revision Commission

The State Bar’s Rules Revision Commission has been working on a revision of the California Rules of Professional Conduct for the past eight years. It is time they be completed, and we have reorganized to seek completion of all the rules revisions by July 2010.

You will find on the State Bar Web site (go to Board of Governors, Agendas, Regulation and Admissions Committee, Nov. 12 Agenda) a subset of some new rules proposed for adoption. They have been out for public comment already and they are the first group of new rules to be considered for adoption. I urge all of you active in local or other bar association ethics committees, and all of you individually, to review the proposed new rules as they are posted.

The State Bar can only recommend these to the Supreme Court of California, which has the authority to adopt them for the profession. But this is the chance for all members of the bar to be heard. Take advantage of it.

I have written about public protection and the rules revision as examples of the kind of work the State Bar continues to do. In other months I will write about other projects. But we are here. We are not going away. And we will continue to serve the public and the legal profession with excellence and the highest possible standards.

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