California-Bar-Association

The State Bar of California does not consistently protect the public from bad lawyers and lacks financial accountability, a new state audit concludes.
To read audit, click the following link: State Bar Audit

Kathy Robertson
Sacramento Business Journal
Jun 18, 2015 – 1:07pm PDT

The State Bar of California does not consistently protect the public from bad lawyers and lacks financial accountability, according to a state audit released Thursday.

Instead of focusing resources on enforcement, the bar spent more than $76 million to purchase and renovate a building in Los Angeles, the audit says.

The agency struggles to resolve complaints in a timely way, potentially delaying discipline, the audit concludes. Efforts to reduce a backlog that topped 5,000 cases in 2010 included a rush of settlements, some of them “inadequate.” Efforts to reduce the backlog prompted settlements in 1,500 cases — more than in any of the other four years assessed in the audit.

In fact, the California Supreme Court returned 27 cases the State Bar settled in 2011 for re-examination due to the appearance of insufficient discipline. Upon further consideration by the bar, 21 or the 27 cases resulting in recommendation of further discipline, including five disbarments.

“To reduce its backlog, the State Bar allowed some attorneys whom it otherwise might have disciplined more severely — or even disbarred — to continue practicing law, placing the public at risk,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to the governor and legislative leaders enclosed in the audit.

Information the bar reports annually to the legislature remains “problematic” because the organization continues to report fewer cases than the law permits, the audit concludes.

In surprising spin on the document, state bar officials released a statement Thursday saying the audit “confirmed the integrity of the State Bar of California’s discipline case data.” Also acknowledging areas identified for improvement, State Bar president Craig Holden said the organization embraces the recommendations, “many of which we began addressing late last year.”

One problem is the current reporting structure of the audit-and-review unit “creates a risk that the chief trial counsel may be able to minimize or fail to act upon findings resulting from an audit or review,” the audit says. Auditors allege former chief trial counsel, without notifying the state bar’s board of trustees, disbanded the second-look review function of the audit-and-review unit in 2010 and redirected unit staff to help reduce its discipline case backlog.

Among recommendations to fix widespread problems at the bar, the audit says the organization should adhere to its own quality-control processes to ensure consistent enforcement — and “take steps to prevent its management or staff from circumventing those processes.” The audit further recommends the audit-and-review unit report to the executive director rather than the chief trial counsel to ensure independent oversight.

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