Friday, August 26, 2005
State Bar Dues Bill Headed to Governor, but Bid for More Judgeships Looks Dead for This Year
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Senate yesterday approved the State Bar’s dues bill for 2006 and 2007, sending it to the governor’s desk.
The action came the same day that the judiciary received bad news on one of its top priorities. The Assembly Appropriations Committee opted to hold legislation creating new judgeships, apparently killing the measure for this year.
The dues bill, AB 1529, by Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, passed by a vote of 35-11. Republicans Dick Ackerman of Orange County, Charles Poochigian of Fresno, Jim Battin of Riverside County, and Abel Maldonado of Santa Barbara County joined with 21 Democrats in support of the bill.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, led the forces in support of the bill, while Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, headed up the opposition. Morrow, a State Bar member as is Dunn, is a longtime critic who has advocated banning the organization from all lobbying on non-regulatory matters, even with voluntary funding, and making it easier for out-of-state lawyers to practice here, among other changes.
AB 1529 would fund the State Bar for the next two years by authorizing increases in the dues for active members in 2006 by $5, to a total of $395. In 2007, the authorized dues would increase to $400.
The dues for inactive members, which have not been raised since their inception almost 20 years ago, are set to increase to $115 in 2006 and $125 in 2007. The State Bar argued that the increase would more accurately reflect the services, benefits, and regulatory obligations of inactive attorneys, and avoid larger increases in dues for active members.
The bill also changes the scaling rules, requiring members with income of more than $40,000 annually from all sources to pay the full amount of dues even if none of that income was derived from the practice of law. The State Bar argues that this will restore the original intent of the Legislature by limiting scaling to “truly needy lower-income attorneys.”
AB 1529 also aids the Client Security Fund, with $5 of the active dues increase and $10 of the inactive increase going to that purpose.
Bar officials said there early contacts with the Governor’s Office indicate good prospects for securing approval of the bill, which passed the Assembly May 16 by a vote of 49-25. They noted that Assembly Judiciary Committee Vice-Chair Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly and that Ackerman has been a leading exponent in the Senate.
Jones also voiced optimism.
“I believe that we’ve made a good case for a modest increase in fees,” the lawmaker told the MetNews. “The governor understands the State Bar is responsible for disciplining lawyers and making sure lawyers are acting professionally.”
Jones voiced disappointment in the Appropriations Committee’s lack of support for SB 56, which had previously passed the Senate and would have authorized an unspecified increase in the number of judges, plus the conversion of subordinate judicial officer positions into judgeships.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said, “because we need more judges so that average Californians can have access to the courts and to justice.”
Jones said he was “hopeful” of a better result next year, although he said it is unlikely the budget picture is going to improve that soon.
Before the specific numbers were stripped from the bill by amendment, it provided for creation of 150 judgeships over three years, plus the conversion of 161 commissioner and referee positions. The estimated price tag for salaries and benefits for the new judges and their support staff was close to $118 million.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company