Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Hearings Set for Proposed Attorney Civility Standards
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The California’s State Bar’s Attorney Civility Task Force is set to hold public hearings in Los Angeles and San Francisco next month on its proposed statewide civility standards, officials said yesterday.
The local hearing is scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. on March 28, in the boardroom located on the seventh floor of 1149 Hill Street in Los Angeles. The San Francisco hearing is slated for 11 a.m. on March 14 in the boardroom located on the fourth floor of 180 Howard Street.
State Bar President Sheldon Sloan, who said he appointed the task force last November after thinking seriously about the issue of attorney civility for 10 years, commented to the MetNews that he was optimistic about feedback on the draft standards.
“I hope we’ll get a lot of positive comments,” he said. “I know that others feel strongly about it because I’ve had a very positive response from members of the bar.”
Ethics expert Diane Karpman, a task force member who is also concurrently on the American Bar Association’s standing committee on professionalism, said the State Bar has received over 100 requests for copies of the draft standards to date and anticipates “some amount” of response by the March 20 deadline for written comment submissions.
The proposed standards, issued for public comment earlier this month after a drafting process that began last November, represent the first attempt made at standardizing a civility program on a statewide level in California—although various local bar associations throughout the state have adopted their own standards. They would be applicable to all lawyers regardless of practice area.
Karpman said the proposed statewide standards were the result of a “long process” of analyzing different civility codes throughout the U.S., with an emphasis on California’s civility code. In addition, she noted, the task force paid particular attention to the Santa Clara County Bar Association’s civility model.
According to their introduction, the standards would be “voluntary” and serve as “guidelines” to foster a level of professionalism beyond that mandated by the California Rules of Professional Conduct. Not intended to supplant other rules or be the basis of disciplinary action, the standards are self-described as a “reminder” that civility by legal practitioners promotes the effectiveness and enjoyment of the practice.
But Sloan expressed a desire to see the standards operate as more than mere reminders.
“I’m hoping that once we have this in process and we have everybody signing on to it, it becomes kind of the norm that will be appropriately recognized by the judiciary, by the judicial council, and the members of the bench, and in situations where they observe breaches of civility, they will feel comfortable referring to this code and imposing appropriate sanctions for violations,” he said. “I think that that will encourage lawyers to be more civil to one another.”
The goal, he added, is to take a final version of the standards up and down the state and get members of the judges and attorneys—the standards would apply to both—to sign a pledge committing to them.
“We hope that everybody in the state is going to be willing to sign on to this,” Sloan added.
The proposed standards are comprised of 20 sections which cover various aspects of litigation-related conduct by attorneys, such as punctuality at hearings, scheduling meetings with opposing counsel, taking depositions, filing motions, dealing with nonparty witnesses and making court appearances.
With regard to depositions, for example, the standards state that a lawyer should not “engage in offensive conduct or disparage the intelligence, integrity, ethics, morals or behavior of other participants when those characteristics are not at issue.”
The draft standards also include separate sections specifically addressing the conduct of transactional business lawyers, family law attorneys and criminal law practitioners—something Karpman noted was “unusual.”
A Board of Governors committee will be asked to authorize formal public comment on the proposed standards in May, and the board is expected to act on a final version of the standards before the end of the board year in late September, task force staff members said.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company