Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, July 3, 2001


Page 1


Davis Signs State Bar Dues Bill, Awaits Companion Measure on Substance Abuse Diversion


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Gov. Gray Davis has signed a bill setting State Bar dues at $390 for most California lawyers each of the next two years, but the measure is to take effect only upon Davis’ approval of a second bill that tacks on a $10 fee to cover a substance-abuse treatment and diversion program.

Davis late last week signed Senate Bill 352 by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Encino.

It is “double-joined” with the diversion program bill, SB 479 by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton of San Francisco. SB 479 had already made it to Davis’ desk, but it was returned at Burton’s request pending passage of SB 352.

Current State Bar dues are $395 per year. Kuehl’s measure would take effect for 2002-2003 and represents a $5 reduction in the current $40 assessment currently authorized for the client security fund, an account held to reimburse victims of unscrupulous or careless lawyers.

But State Bar leaders have long known that the Legislature envisioned a slight dues increase to fund the program in Burton’s bill, which is co-sponsored by the Board of Governors. If the legislation is signed by Davis, annual dues for most California lawyers will be $400.

Under the bill, the Board of Governors would be required to establish the Attorney Diversion and Assistance Program.” The program would be supervised by a committee made up of doctors, substance abuse experts, and attorneys, at least one of whom must be in recovery from addiction. The 12-member panel would be appointed by the Board of Governors, the governor of California and leaders of the Legislature.

Lawyers with substance abuse problems could enter voluntarily, or they could be referred to the program as part of a discipline probe by the State Bar’s office of chief trial counsel or the State Bar Court. Lawyers who ordered into the program by the State Bar would have to go inactive or be subject to other limitations on their ability to practice.

State Bar officials recently reported to the Board of Governors that about 300 attorneys currently on probation have some type of alcohol or drug condition. The number represents one-third of all California lawyers on probation, the State Bar said.

Many other states already have diversion programs for attorneys.

Current law already requires that California lawyers submit to a physical or mental exam if their condition becomes an issue in an investigation or disciplinary proceeding. The diversion program would be in addition to the exam requirement.

Participating attorneys would pay their own expenses for the cost of operating the program.

Kuehl’s bill, in addition to authorizing dues, eliminates some portions of the current law which are deemed outdated or unenforceable. For example, Sec. 1 of the bill states:

“The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the provisin imposing the duty on an attorney to abstain from having an offensive personality…has been held to be unconstitutionally void for vagueness by the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit….”


Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company