Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
12/08/2014 7:13 PM

The state licenses and regulates dozens of professions and occupations – doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, architects, dentists, contractors, barbers, cosmetologists, just to name some.

Lawyers are conspicuously absent from that list.

To practice law in California, one must be a member of the State Bar, a quasi-public, quasi-private entity based in San Francisco and supported by mandatory “dues” set by the Legislature.

However, the State Bar is not merely another licensing and regulatory agency. It also functions as the political arm of the legal profession, with lobbyists working the Capitol on a variety of political policy issues affecting lawyers.

It’s as if the Medical Board of California, the state agency that licenses physicians, were merged with the California Medical Association, the profession’s political arm.

That would be an obvious conflict of interest for doctors, so why is it acceptable for lawyers?

A couple of decades ago, then-Gov. Pete Wilson refused to sign a routine bill on bar dues, arguing that the State Bar was too overtly political and insisting that its regulatory and political functions be separated.

Wilson didn’t win that battle, but he was right, and the two roles are still a sore point, particularly among lawyers who dislike the State Bar’s political positions.

It underlies a name-calling blowup in the State Bar centering on Joe Dunn, a onetime state senator and, ironically, head of the California Medical Association, who was hired as the State Bar’s executive director four years ago, apparently to shore up the State Bar’s clout in Sacramento.

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