Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
October 17, 2016 – 3:13 PM

The state Legislature adjourned on Aug. 31 without passing the annual bill authorizing the State Bar to collect “dues” from the state’s attorneys to finance its operations.

It’s not the first time the dues bill has become enmeshed in Capitol politics, and the expectation was that the state Supreme Court would quickly order collection of enough dues to keep the quasi-public agency operating until the political squabble was resolved, as it last did in 1998.

However, the intense conflict over the State Bar’s organization and operations that held up the dues bill has morphed into an equally sharp war of words over how much the Supreme Court should allow it to extract from lawyers.

Critics have roasted the State Bar for neglecting the discipline of miscreant attorneys and spending too much time and money acting like a legal trade association. Some, including some members of the State Bar’s governing board, have called for shedding its latter functions to concentrate on the former.

The state Assembly passed a dues bill that contained a number of reforms and suggested that “deunification,” as it’s called, be considered. But the Senate balked at that suggestion, content to give a new management structure more time for internal reform.

Extensive private negotiations, with Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye involved and backing the Senate’s position, failed to resolve the conflict before the Legislature ended its session.

Cantil-Sakauye quickly directed the State Bar to submit a request for dues “to fund the Bar’s discipline system” until the Legislature resolved its conflict, but the agency responded with a 43-page request suggesting that it should be able to receive not only the dues that legislation would have provided but perhaps even more to finance “public protection functions.”

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