Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Governor Brown Signs State Bar Dues Bill With Open Meetings, Records Requirements
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed into law the State Bar dues bill, maintaining the existing fee structure for 2016.
SB 387, authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, passed both houses unanimously.
Business & Professions Code Sec. 6140 provides that the State Bar Board of Trustees shall set dues “at a sum not exceeding” $315. Additional amounts tacked on to support the Client Security Fund, disciplinary activities, the Lawyer Assistance Program, information technology upgrades, and the Building Fund bring the total to more than $400.
While maintaining the fee structure, however, the legislation does make changes to State Bar governance, including a new open meetings requirement.
While current law requires open meetings, with some exceptions, the new law places the entire State Bar, with the exception of the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and the Committee of Bar Examiners, under the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act.
Bagley-Keene requires that meetings of state government bodies, with limited exceptions, be open to the public. Its provisions are similar to those of the better-known Ralph M. Brown Act, which applies to local government bodies.
The legislation also places the State Bar under the California Public Records Act, with an exemption for documents relating to admissions, and requires that that State Bar contract with the California State Auditor’s Office “to conduct an in-depth financial audit of the State Bar, including an audit of its financial statement, internal controls, and relevant management practices” and sets minimum standards for the audit.
The bill leaves undisturbed provisions which permit a $5 deduction by those who do not want to support the State Bar’s legislative program (an option required by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Keller v. State Bar of California), a $5 deduction by members who object to application of dues to access and elimination of bias programs, and a $10 deduction by lawyers who do not want to support the legal services activities.
No controversy surrounded this year’s dues bill. This was in contrast to 2009 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the dues bill, causing bar operations to be largely frozen.
The governor, peeved over the State Bar Commission on Judicial Evaluations’ rating of state Sen. Charles Poochigian as “not qualified” for the Court of Appeal, said in his veto message that he questioned the State Bar’s “impartiality in considering judicial appointments.” He appointed Poochigian, who was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments.
Schwarzenegger was also upset that the rating had been leaked. However, no evidence emerged that the report of the rating by this newspaper had been based on information that emanated from the State Bar or the JNE commission.
In 1997, then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the bar dues bill, saying in his message:
“The bar has responded to Keller by conducting business as usual while offering a minuscule rebate to those opposed. Unappeased, several bar members (including one former and one current member of the legislature) sued this year, asserting that the bar had violated its members’ rights by taking positions on legislation with which members disagree.
“In recent months, as disgruntled members have leveled charges that the bar is bloated, arrogant, oblivious and unresponsive, the bar has promptly done its best to verify each indictment.”
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company