Kopp says he wrote new bill mostly to dispel 'untruths'


Quentin Kopp

As ballots to determine the future of the State Bar were put in the mail, new legislation was being drafted to change the bar's structure.

Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), author of the plebiscite bill, said he does not plan to introduce the new measure but wrote it "for the purposes of dispelling the untruths of (State Bar President Jim) Towery and his confederates."

Towery countered that the new bill addresses questions he has raised throughout the campaign, in particular the notion the regulation of the bar might be placed in the hands of the state's consumer affairs agency.

Three days before the ballots went out, the state announced the results of its audit of the bar, also required by the plebiscite legislation. (See story) Towery said he was extremely pleased with the findings, adding that plebiscite backers should be disappointed that the audit did not provide them the "ammunition" they hoped for to bolster their anti-bar arguments.

The audit suggested the bar should be able to reduce its dues through better cost recovery efforts from disciplined attorneys and by charging the costs of voluntary programs only to those who use them. Towery disputed both recommendations.

Auditors also congratulated discipline officials for making changes that have increased the system's "efficiency, effectiveness and reliability," but suggested some practices create the appearance of bias.

The audit also supported the bar's real property operations, including offices in both northern and southern California and the recent acquisition of larger facilities in San Francisco.

Towery noted that auditors offered no support for several anti-bar arguments made during the plebiscite campaign, including charges that the bar has a bloated bureaucracy, that management is characterized by fraud and waste, and that attorneys would save money if the bar is abolished.

"No fair reading of this report can support abolishing the bar," Towery said.

Plebiscite ballots, which ask California's 120,000 active attorneys whether the State Bar should remain mandatory, were mailed May 24. They must be returned to Price Waterhouse by 6 p.m. June 17.

The results will be tabulated immediately and Towery says he will announce the outcome as soon as it is available, probably within a day or two.

Towery has argued throughout the campaign that the plebiscite question does not specify who would regulate attorneys and perform mandated functions if the bar is abolished. He has warned that attorneys face loss of control of the legal profession, particularly if regulation is turned over to the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Kopp's new measure would transfer the bar's statutory responsibilities, including discipline, admissions, MCLE, the Client Security Fund and the attorney trust fund, to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

It also authorizes the establishment of a voluntary state bar, called the California State Lawyers Association, and provides for a two-year transition.

Kopp called the measure "strictly a procedural step in order to give lawyers a black and white memorialization of (Towery's) untruths."

Towery said the bill constitutes a response to arguments he has made throughout the campaign.

"The fact that he responded so strongly to arguments about consumer affairs is a belated recognition by Sen. Kopp that the plebiscite question as he drafted it is vague and ambiguous and does not specify alternatives or structure" of a new bar, Towery said.

He added that Kopp's new measure underscores another key point in the anti-plebiscite campaign: a yes vote puts the bar's future in the hands of the legislature.

"I appreciate that Sen. Kopp may have no intention of putting the bar in consumer affairs, but what will come out of the legislature and be signed by the governor is another question," Towery said. "This underscores the appropriate concern lawyers may have that a yes vote would increase rather than decrease legislative involvement in the regulation of the bar."

Towery also said it is "regrettable and ironic" that Kopp would draft an anti-bar bill before attorneys have cast their votes. "It has always been part of the plebiscite process that the legislature would wait to hear what the lawyers of California think before taking any action," he said.

Kopp said that is still true and he has no intention of introducing the new measure. Even if the plebiscite is successful, he said, he will not rush to introduce legislation during the next session. "I will evaluate the results with all interested lawyers," he said.

Insisting that the new bill is meant only to be informational, Kopp said he will make available copies to any attorney who wants one.

He also pointed to a letter signed by 23 legislators stating that the plebiscite is designed to give lawyers the opportunity to decide their own future. The letter calls the plebiscite "the bestowal . . . of a benefit upon California lawyers, namely the benefit of a democratic vote on whether the mandatory requirement of State Bar membership should continue. . . .

"We believe lawyers' voices should be heard in respect to the legal profession and their own self-regulation."

Both Kopp and Towery said it is difficult to predict the outcome of the vote. Kopp said he thinks the measure has a 50-50 chance of passage, and Towery worries about attorney apathy.

But the bar president said he is cautiously optimistic and noted that 110 bar groups have recommended a "no" vote. "I think the general impression among many lawyers, not those involved in bar activities, is that the proponents failed to make their case and although the bar needs reform, the plebiscite is too drastic and too vague."