Friday, September 2, 2016
State Bar Says It Will Ask High Court to Assess Fees
Director Says Group Will Invoke 1998 Precedent After Dues Bill Fails to Pass
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The State Bar will seek an order assessing fees on California lawyers to support the organization’s 2017 operations, Executive Director Elizabeth Parker said yesterday.
The organization said in a release that it will ask for the court’s assistance in the wake of the Legislature adjourning Wednesday without approving dues authority for next year. The Assembly Monday unanimously passed a bill that would have authorized renewal of that authority at the current rate, but the Senate took no action.
Lawmakers expressed frustration with the State Bar on a number of fronts, citing a critical audit of its spending, particularly on salaries; a U.S. Supreme Court decision potentially opening the group to antitrust liability if it continues to have a governing board made up primarily of members of the profession it regulates, and the disclosure that hundreds of complaints against unlicensed persons alleging practicing law had been left unprocessed, among other things.
In a press release yesterday, the State Bar noted that a 1998 California Supreme Court ruling established that the court can grant interim authority for the agency to assess fees to attorneys licensed in California in the absence of legislative action. The assessment levied that year was limited to the maintenance of the discipline system, and Elwood Lui, then in private practice but now a justice of this district’s Court of Appeal, was appointed as a special master to monitor the spending.
The State Bar said in its release that it anticipates seeking broader authority than under the 1998 precedent.
The release read in part:
“The bar’s executive director anticipates that the Board of Trustees will approve the request, at its special Sept. 12 board meeting, to make the submission to the court. It will ask for a court decision by early December in order to allow fees to be collected on the usual schedule.
“The submission will seek the ability to fund the state bar discipline functions as well as other critical public protection programs, and is expected to be more comprehensive than the State Bar’s 1998 request to the court for fees. The full request will be available after it is submitted to the court.”
The release quoted Parker as saying:
“The State Bar’s mission is public protection and we will continue to prioritize that work with as little disruption as possible. We’re going to get through this.
“While I am disappointed that it was not possible for the legislature to come to an agreement on a fee bill, I am grateful for the important discussions that have taken place. We look forward to working with both houses of the legislature and the Chief Justice as we continue making important improvements to the State Bar’s governance and public protection activities.”
The release said Parker and Chief Operating Officer Leah Wilson met with staff members yesterday and said “the agency does not does not anticipate and does not want major downsizing” but may “address understandable staff uncertainty” by offering “voluntary separation options.” If the high court rejects its request, the State Bar said, it can operate for up to four months by pulling from reserves.
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