Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Citizen, Defense Lawyers Offer Critiques of Discipline System
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A member of the public and a judicial staff attorney offered comments diametrically opposed to those of lawyers who represent attorneys in the discipline system during the State Bar’s annual hearing on attorney disciplinary procedures, competency and admissions procedures yesterday.
JoAnne Earls Robbins of Karpman & Associates in Beverly Hills, a former State Bar Court judge who now defends accused lawyers, criticized the discipline system as “unreasonably strict,” and advocated against permanent disbarment a form of discipline, but U.S. District Court attorney Robert Klepa told the five-member panel that “there are certain attorneys who should not be practicing.”
Robbins expressed concern that the State Bar discipline system has been becoming “more and more strict, but not more fair.” She insisted that the protection of the public does not require removal of attorneys who “make mistakes,” but rather requires the prevention of misconduct.
She opined that a term of probation, coupled with appropriate conditions, such as counseling, random drug testing, or requirement that a disciplined attorney acquire co-counsel, would be sufficient to remove the danger to the public while allowing the disciplined attorney to maintain his practice.
Because Robbins said most attorneys in the disicipline system are either solo practitioners or members of small firms, actual suspension for such lawyers is often the “death knell” of their practices.
“I’ve seen it happen, many, many, many times,” she maintained.
In addition, Robbins denied that defense attorneys like herself only represent the interests of disciplined lawyers and not the public, because “a good defense is necessary to protect the system from abuse,” she said, suggesting that the State Bar Board Committee on Regulation, Admissions & Discipline Oversight consider adding a defense attorney as an ex officio member.
David Carr, president of the Association of Discipline Defense Counsel, echoed Robbins’ request for increased representation with the State Bar.
Quoting the adage, “if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” Carr said that defense attorneys “deserve a place at the table.”
In contrast, Kaveh Roshan of Culver City, a small business operator who said he has had problems with lawyers representing him, disagreed that probation was adequate to protect members of the public.
“As a citizen that this system is for,” he said he was “shocked” and “dumbfounded” that attorneys with serious drug and alcohol problems are permitted to practice and that he would be “horrified” to have such an attorney as his counsel.
“Help them,” Roshan said, “but remove them from the legal process.”
He expressed some trepidation and doubt about speaking, saying hesitantly that “I may be wasting my time…I hope that I’m not,” and reminding the panel that the public has “a high expectation” of the legal community.
Klepa, the final speaker at the meeting, voiced concern with the State Bar’s practice of reinstating disbarred attorneys, saying he was “dismayed” to learn one particular disbarred attorney had been reinstated because he said he would have liked to have shared his experience with that attorney and advocated agaisnt reinstatement.
Panelist Scott Drexel, chief trial counsel for The State Bar of California’s attorney discipline system, responded that notices of reinstatement are published in the State Bar Journal for interested persons to voice their support or objections.
As for Klepa’s other concern—a foreign attorney he had encountered who was not licensed to practice in California and was not admitted pro hac vice but was performing legal work for a California firm—Drexel said the State Bar has authority to discipline the firm which employed the out-of-state attorney and asked Klepa to provide him with more information privately.
Gayle Murphy, head of bar admissions, added that often individuals who engage in the unauthorized practice of law are seeking admission and that the bar admissions section would “be interested” in such situations.
The other members of the hearing panel were State Bar Board of Governors members Rex Heinke and George Davis—Davis is a public member—along with court Chief Administrative Officer Colin Wong and Director of Competence Programs Randall Difuntorum. State Bar President Holly Fujie also observed the proceedings from the audience.
The State Bar convenes two hearings on attorney disciplinary procedures, competency and admissions procedures each year, as required by the State Bar Act.
A second hearing is scheduled for tomorrow in San Francisco.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company