Friday, October 7, 2005
Authorization for Displaced Lawyers to Practice in State Sought
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A committee of the State Bar of California voted unanimously yesterday to seek a Supreme Court order allowing attorneys displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to practice law in California without violating strictures against unauthorized practice of law.
The Board Operations Committee, which is authorized to take emergency action between Board of Governors meetings, adopted a resolution directing the State Bar 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.”
Deputy Executive Director Robert A. Hawley told the committee he was suggesting the action because of inquiries from California lawyers about steps the State Bar could take to assist lawyers by the hurricanes. No inquiries from displaced lawyers have been received, Hawley said.
Hawley said before yesterday afternoon’s conference call meeting that “nearly half” of the states outside the impacted area have already taken similar action. His memorandum to the Operations Committee included as attachments orders issued on Sept. 12 by the Arizona Supreme Court and Sept. 26 by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The draft order to be submitted to the Supreme Court will be modeled on those two orders, Hawley told the committee.
A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts said yesterday that the Supreme Court was “aware” of the situation but would await a request from the State Bar before deciding whether to act.
Hawley’s memorandum noted that the contemplated order would not apply to law practice involving “California citizens and California issues,” and State Bar President Jim Heiting, who chairs the Operations Committee, told the committee members the plan was to permit lawyers to continue with their work “as it affects their home affected states only.”
At the urging of committee member Paul S. Hokokian, a Fresno attorney, a caveat was added to the proposed resolution specifying that the authorization sought would be for one year, subject to renewal by the Supreme Court.
Former Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Sheldon Sloan, a committee member who represents Los Angeles County lawyers on the board, said any order should include a provision that displaced lawyers practicing in California would be subject to the disciplinary authority of the State Bar of California.
Hawley pointed out that both the Arizona and Nevada court orders contain analogous provisions, and said he would regard it as the sense of the committee that similar language should be included in the proposed order.
After the meeting, Hawley acknowledged that rules on multijurisdictional practice adopted by the state Supreme Court in 2004 “might be applicable” to the situation of displaced lawyers.
Rule 966 of the California Rules of Court, titled “Attorneys practicing law temporarily in California as part of litigation,” provides that in general a lawyer in California temporarily is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law if the legal services rendered are part of a proceeding in a state in which the lawyer is authorized to practice. Rule 967 provides similar protection for lawyers advising clients “concerning a transaction or other nonlitigation matter, a material aspect of which is taking place in a jurisdiction other than California and in which the attorney is licensed to provide legal services.”
But Hawley pointed out that those rules contain “some details that could trip up lawyers” displaced by the hurricanes. For example, he noted, both rules require that the attorney “[m]aintain an office in a United States jurisdiction other than California and in which the attorney is licensed to practice law.”
The inability to maintain such an office, Hawley said, may be precisely what has brought some Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas attorneys to California.
“We don’t want to trip people up on that kind of stuff,” Hawley said. “We didn’t want to throw up obstacles.”
Before the meeting, Hawley noted that similar multijurisdictional practice rules have been adopted in many states, but a large number of those states have found special orders dealing with displaced lawyers advisable anyway.
“The obvious consensus is that the strict MJP standards that exist don’t fit the need that’s addressed by those orders,” Hawley said.
He told the committee members that he did not expect the task of dealing with displaced lawyers to become “a major burden” in California, but added that he thought it was important that the state not be “missing in being a part of this process.”
The Arizona Supreme Court’s order permits displaced lawyers from Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama to practice for six months “from a location in 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 committee vote in favor of the resolution was 8-0.
The Committee on Operations is made of up the board’s five third-year elected attorney representatives, California Young Lawyers Association representative Maralee MacDonald, public members Melvin D. Lee and Richard A. Rubin, State Bar Executive Director Judy Johnson, and Heiting. Sloan is the only Los Angeles member.
The full 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