Monday, September 12, 2011
Senate Passes Bill Making Big Changes to State Bar Governance
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Legislation that will make significant changes in how the State Bar governs itself, while extending its dues authority through next year, passed the state Senate Friday.
Legislative sources said SB 163, by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, passed the upper chamber 39-0, without debate following the sponsor’s explanation of the bill. The bill next goes to the governor for signature.
While keeping dues at their current level, less a $10 rebate, the bill makes changes that the author said will enhance the State Bar’s role in protecting the public.
The bill’s opening section reads:
“Protection of the public shall be the highest priority for the State Bar of California and the board of trustees in exercising their licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions. Whenever the protection of the public is inconsistent with other interests sought to be promoted, the protection of the public shall be paramount.”
The bill consists of 64 sections, touching every aspect of State Bar operation, although many of the changes are minor or simply clarifying.
Growing out of the earlier work of the legislatively created Task Force on State Bar Governance, the bill will replace the current Board of Governors with a Board of Trustees, effective Jan. 1. The board would initially consist of 23 members as at present, but would eventually be reduced to 19.
As at present, there would be six public members, with four being appointed by the governor and two by the legislative leadership. But the number of attorney members would be reduced from 16 to 13, and the method of selection would change radically.
Currently, there are 15 members elected from nine districts, and the districts and the number of members from each are apportioned along the lines of “one attorney, one vote.” But under SB 163, six members would be elected, one from each Court of Appeal district; five would be appointed by the Supreme Court; and two would be appointed by the legislative leadership.
The seat currently set aside for a representative of the California Young Lawyers Association would be abolished.
Current board members, however, along with those elected earlier this year, will be allowed to complete their terms. To accomplish this, the law allows for a transition period, ending in 2014, during which the board may consist of up to 23 members.
Members would be allowed to serve a maximum of two three-year terms.
Provisions relating to the governance task force are repealed, now that its work is done, but a new task force—consisting of seven members, including the bar president—will be created to review the new structure and advise the Legislature on governance matters.
The legislation also allows the board to spend up to $20 per member per year to provide legal services to the poor.
Legislative Counsel’s Digest of SB 163
SB 163, as amended, Evans. Attorneys: board of trustees: annual membership fee.
Existing law, the State Bar Act, provides for the licensure and regulation of attorneys by the State Bar of California, a public corporation.
(1) Under existing law, the State Bar is governed by a board known as the Board of Governors of the State Bar. The board of governors consists of 23 members, including 15 attorney members, one attorney member elected by the board of directors of the California Young Lawyers Association, 6 public members, and the President of the State Bar. Existing law provides for the election of attorney members to the board from specified counties included in State Bar Districts.
Under existing law, the public members of the board are appointed by the Governor and the Legislature. Existing law requires a public member to have never been a member of the State Bar or admitted to practice before any court in the United States. Public members are subject to specified conflict-of-interest provisions.
This bill would revise and recast these provisions by renaming the board of governors as the board of trustees and would also revise the composition of the board to include no more than 23 members and no less than 19 members, as specified and determined by the State Bar, to include the existing 6 public members appointed by the Governor and the Legislature and 13 attorney members. Under the bill, the 13 attorney members would consist of 6 attorney members elected from State Bar Districts based on the 6 court of appeal districts, 5 attorney members appointed by the Supreme Court, and 2 attorney members appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Committee on Rules. The bill would require these attorney members to serve for a term of 3 years and would limit the elected and Supreme Court appointed members to being reappointed or reelected for one additional term. With respect to the Supreme Court appointments, the bill would specify criteria that the Supreme Court should consider in making these appointments and would require the State Bar to carry out the administrative responsibilities related to the Supreme Court’ s appointments.
The bill would require the State Bar to reduce the board of trustees from 23 members to 19 members by October 31, 2014. The bill would require the State Bar to develop a plan for implementing the transition to a 19-member board by January 31, 2012, and to submit a written report detailing that plan to the Committees on Judiciary by January 31, 2012. The bill would also require the State Bar to report annually to the Committees on Judiciary on its progress toward implementing this transition. The bill would prohibit the State Bar from changing or abolishing a board member’s term that commenced prior to December 31, 2011, or forcing any board member to resign whose term commenced prior to that date in order to accomplish the transition. The bill would also declare the intent of the Legislature in this regard.
The bill would make public members subject to additional conflict-of-interest provisions, such as the provision that prohibits a public member from being a close family member of a member of the State Bar.
The bill would make other conforming changes related to the renaming of the board and the establishment of both an election and appointment process for attorney members of the board.
(2) Under existing law, the officers of the State Bar are a president, 4 vice presidents, a secretary, and a treasurer, and one of the vice presidents may also be elected to the office of treasurer. Existing law requires the board, within 270 days before the annual meeting, to elect the officers for the ensuing year.
Existing law requires the president and other officers to be elected from among members with specified terms. Under existing law, the president may vote only in the case of a specified tie vote.
This bill would instead provide that the officers shall include a president, a vice president, a secretary, and a treasurer. The bill would require the board to elect the officers within 90 days before the annual meeting. The bill would also authorize the president and the other officers to be elected from among all members of the board.
The bill would also delete the limitation on the president’s voting authority.
(3) The bill would require the board to complete and implement a 5-year strategic plan and would require the president to report to the Supreme Court, the Governor, and the Committees on Judiciary on certain aspects of the strategic plan.
(4) Existing law establishes a Governance in the Public Interest Task Force within the State Bar. The task force is made up of 11 specified board members, including the President of the State Bar, and these board members are appointed by the president. Existing law requires the task force to prepare a report that includes its recommendations for, among other things, enhancing and ensuring the protection of the public.
This bill would instead, until January 1, 2013, reconstitute the task force to be comprised of 7 members, including 3 attorney members and 3 public members appointed by the president, and the president would continue to serve as a member of the repeal that provision establishing that task force. The bill would, on and after January 1, 2013, reconstitute the establish a task force to be comprised of a total of 7 members, including 2 elected attorney members, 2 appointed members, and 2 public members, who would be selected as specified, and the president. The bill would require the task force to make suggestions to the board of trustees regarding the strategic plan described above and other issues as requested by the Legislature.
(5) Existing law requires the board of governors to charge an annual membership fee for active members of up to $315 for 2011.
Existing law also requires the board to charge an annual membership fee for inactive members of up to $75. Existing law authorizes, until January 1, 2014, $10 of those membership fees to be allocated to support nonprofit organizations that provide free legal service to persons of limited means, and authorizes a member to deduct that amount from his or her annual fee if the member elects not to make this allocation.
This bill would require the board to charge that annual membership fee for active members for 2012 minus a $10 rebate to be described in a specified manner on the annual dues statement. The bill would require the board to charge that annual membership fee for inactive members minus a $10 rebate to be described in a specified manner on the annual dues statement. The bill would increase the amount of those membership fees that may be allocated to support nonprofit organizations that provide free legal services to $20 and the bill would specify that this $20 shall be retained in the general fund of the State Bar if a member does not elect to make such an allocation .
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company