Thursday, August 2, 2001
Davis Signs Bill on Lawyer Substance Abuse, Clearing Way for Extension of State Bar Dues
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Legislation establishing a diversion program for lawyers who abuse drugs or alcohol was signed into law yesterday by Gov. Gray Davis.
The governor’s approval of SB 479 also assures that the State Bar will be able to collect dues for the next two years. SB 352, which Davis signed on June 27, made the extension of dues authority contingent on the enactment of the substance-abuse bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco.
The purpose of the bill, according to its terms, is to “seek ways and means to identify and rehabilitate attorneys with impairment due to abuse of dangerous drugs or alcohol or mental or physical illness.”
The “Attorney Diversion and Assistance 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 State Bar Board of Governors, the governor, and leaders of the Legislature.
Lawyers with substance abuse problems may enter voluntarily, or they may 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 are ordered into the program by the State Bar would have to go on inactive status 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.
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.
Diversion program participants are responsible for the costs of treatment plus a reasonable administrative fee, according to SB 479. Additional funds will come from an assessment of $10 per State Bar member per year, but the bar is authorized to seek other funding for the diversion program and transfer an equivalent amount of the assessment proceeds to its general fund.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company