Thursday, October 6, 2005
State Bar Panel to Weigh Asking High Court to Authorize Some California Law Practice by Displaced Attorneys
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A committee of the State Bar of California is set to consider today seeking a Supreme Court order allowing attorneys displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to practice law in California without violating strictures barring unauthorized practice of law.
A memorandum from Deputy Executive Director Robert A. Hawley advised the Board Operations Committee that similar orders have been adopted by “[m]ost other state supreme courts,” and Hawley attached orders issued on Sept. 12 by the Arizona Supreme Court and Sept. 26 by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The draft resolution submitted by Hawley would authorize the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel to “petition the California Supreme Court to allow attorneys displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to practice law while located in the state of California, but only as to issues and clientele of their home state of license.”
Former Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sheldon Sloan, a member of the Board of Governors and its Operations Committee, said yesterday he supports the proposal.
“I believe it’s something that will pass easily,” Sloan said. But he cautioned that an “appropriate regulatory system” will need to be put in place to prevent abuses.
“I’m sure the Supreme Court will also want that kind of control,” Sloan said.
A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts said the Supreme Court was “aware” of the situation but would await a request from the State Bar before deciding whether to act.
Sloan said it is his understanding that if an attorney from Louisiana or another impacted state is physically located in California, local regulations prohibit that lawyer from practicing law even on behalf of home-state clients.
Hawley’s memorandum said that the contemplated order would not apply to law practice involving “California citizens and California issues.”
“Attorneys properly admitted and in good standing in their home states would be able to locate geographically to California but would be allowed only to practice law as if they were in their home states and address legal issues that arise within their home states regarding citizens of their home states.”
He suggested that a time limits of “6 months to 1 year” should be placed on the order.
Hawley noted that states immediately adjoining the hurricane area have “allowed attorneys displaced from Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas to practice more broadly from their locations.” States farther away have typically placed more limitations on the type of practice permitted, he said.
“In light of the growing number of states that have adopted more limited orders of this nature, California may not wish to be notable in its failure to take some form of action in this regard,” Hawley wrote.
The Arizona Supreme Court’s order permits displaced lawyers from Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama to practice for six months “from a location is Arizona as if the attorney were located in the state in which the attorney is licensed.” It specifies that law practice is authorized only on behalf of “existing or new clients who have been displaced from the lawyer’s state of licensure by Hurricane Katrina and any other clients with whom the attorney has an ongoing attorney-client relationship.”
It requires lawyers wishing to practice under the order to provide identifying, contact and license information to the State Bar of Arizona and makes them subject to Arizona disciplinary rules.
The Nevada order lasts until March 15, 2006 and contains similar language. Neither order mentions attorneys from Texas.
The Board Committee on Operations is authorized to act on behalf of the Board of Governors to deal with emergencies in between regularly scheduled board meetings. It is scheduled to meet this afternoon via conference call.
The board last met in San Diego on Sept. 11, the final day of the State Bar’s annual convention. Its next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 22 in Los Angeles.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company