Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
August 2, 2016 – 4:28 PM

It’s been painfully evident for years, if not decades, that the State Bar – the quasi-public organization that licenses lawyers and is supposed regulate their conduct – is an institutional disaster zone.

Multiple reports by outside auditors about its managerial shortcomings, regulatory backlogs and financial irregularities, very public exchanges of charges and countercharges by State Bar officials, and dueling lawsuits all attest to the mess.

Five years ago, the Legislature ordered the State Bar to create a “Public Interest Task Force” to delve into its problems and recommend reforms.

It took four years just for the panel to be convened – itself a testament to the State Bar’s innate dysfunction. This week, however, its conclusions emerged, along with a minority report that says the draft is too weak, ducking the mandate to recommend “meaningful solutions.”

By its own words, the majority didn’t offer concrete reforms because it didn’t want to interject itself in an intense, backroom debate in the Capitol over the State Bar’s fate.

When the State Bar sought its usual bill authorizing it to charge lawyers “dues” to cover its expenses, the Assembly rebelled and made dues contingent on a series of reforms – including, oddly enough, creating another commission to study its operations and recommend changes.

However, the bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, in part because Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye didn’t like its provisions. The Supreme Court wields the ultimate authority on disciplining lawyers. And the bill remains in limbo as the Legislature begins the last month of its biennial session.

Both factions of the task force agree “that significant changes are needed” to make the State Bar an effective agency.

To read expanded column, click here.