Monday, July 26, 2004
Pending Disciplinary Actions Would Be Included With Attorney Information on Bar Web Site Under Plan
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
State Bar officials are working out details of a plan to include information about pending disciplinary actions on the “attorney profile” page of the bar Web site, a bar Board of Governors committee was told Friday.
State Bar Deputy Executive Director Robert A. Hawley told the board’s Membership Oversight Committee, meeting in Los Angeles, that the logistical and policy issues involved are being researched. Currently, he noted, disciplinary matters appear on the profile page only when an action becomes final.
The committee chair, Long Beach attorney Matthew E. Cavanaugh, expressed concern that posting the information would violate the principle that an attorney charged with a disciplinary violation is “innocent until proven guilty.” But Hawley noted that disciplinary filings are a matter of public record.
Other committee members commented that prospective clients are entitled to know if an attorney they are considering using faces an ethics inquiry. Cavanaugh asked that Hawley bring the matter back to the committee before a new policy is implemented.
“The question is, how public do we want to make it,” board member John K. Van de Kamp said. Van de Kamp, who is not a member of the committee, will take office as State Bar president in October.
An attorney’s profile page appears when an attorney’s name is entered into the “attorney search” utility on the State Bar Web site, www.calbar.ca.gov. It includes the lawyer’s bar number, business address and telephone number, admission date, and educational background as well as a history of any discipline.
Hawley said that under the plan being developed by officials, the notation “Pending Proceeding” would be placed in the “Actions” section of the lawyer’s profile if charges were pending. If the action does not result in discipline, the notation would be removed, he explained.
No details about the charges would be included, but there would be a notation on the Web site that information about the case is available from the public State Bar Court record, Hawley said.
Hawley said officials are also, in response to a committee request, developing a plan for removing some references on the attorney profile pages to administrative suspensions for non-payment of dues. Such suspensions, which are often short and are lifted when payment is made, currently remain on the lawyer’s profile page permanently, Hawley noted.
Hawley suggested that if the failure to pay dues is remedied promptly—within a specified grace period such as 30, 60 or 90 days—no reference to the resulting suspension should appear unless the lawyer is a repeat offender. If a lawyer is suspended more than once within a set period, such as five or 10 years, the suspension would remain on the Web page, Hawley explained.
Even if removed from the Web site attorney profile, the suspension would remain a part of the attorney’s public record, he pointed out.
Committee member Rod McLeod, an attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in San Francisco, who first raised the issue, said he was less concerned with a grace period than with removing references to the suspensions once they were in the distant past. Once a dues-related suspension is five years old, it should be dropped from the Web site, McLeod urged, noting he has received complaints from members who find themselves answering inquiries from clients about late dues payments as much as 12 years in the past.
In answer to a question posed by committee member Sheldon H. Sloan, a former Los Angeles Municipal Court judge, Hawley conceded that a member who practices law while administratively suspended for failure to pay dues can be criminally prosecuted, disciplined, or sued by a client. Sloan said the information should remain on the Web site until the limitations periods applicable to any form of sanction have passed.
But committee member David Marcus of the Century City firm of Marcus, Watanabe, Snyder & Dave noted that since the limitations period for a suit by a client arguably begins to run only when the representation is terminated, setting a time for deleting the information based on that consideration might be difficult.
Hawley was asked to investigate the statute of limitations issues involved and to prepare a proposal for the committee to consider at its September meeting in Fresno.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company