Monday, November 21, 2016
Supreme Court Assesses State’s Lawyers $297 Each
Justice Lui to Reprise Role as Special Master Overseeing Special Fund
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court Friday ordered the State Bar’s 187,551 active members to pay a $297 assessment next year in the wake of the Legislature not passing an annual dues bill.
The court unanimously approved the order in In re Attorney Discipline System, S237081. It adopts an interim rule requiring each member to pay the assessment, made up of $283 to support activities related to discipline, $9 “to fund implementation of the workforce plan recommendations from the National Center for State Courts,” and $5 “to make up for revenue the State Bar will forgo because of assessment scaling and assessment waivers.”
The discipline assessment, which will be due by March 1, explicitly includes funding for the Office of General Counsel, Office of Professional Competence, member billing, and mandatory fee arbitration. It also includes funds for discipline-related activities of the Office of Communications and the California Young Lawyers Association.
The order expressly prohibits use of the assessment for legislative lobbying, elimination of bias, and bar relations programs.
The court noted that the assessment is in addition to those amounts that the State Bar is permitted to assess without an annual dues bill, plus any voluntary contributions members might make. The total amount of members’ mandatory fee statements could not be immediately ascertained, a State Bar spokesperson explained, as the Board of Trustees was set to discuss the matter at its meeting Friday.
The high court appointed Court of Appeal Justice Elwood Lui, of this district’s Div. One, as special master to oversee the collection and spending of the money. It will be a reprise of the role he played in 1999 when the court imposed a similar assessment—the only other time it has done so—in the wake of then-Gov. Pete Wilson having vetoed a dues bill.
Lui was in private practice at the time.
State Bar Executive Director Elizabeth Parker said in a statement that the assessment reflects a 5.7 percent reduction in mandatory fees from this year’s $315.
“We are grateful for the Supreme Court’s thoughtful and prompt consideration of our fee request in its interim assessment order, and will continue moving forward in our public protection work. We are also grateful to our dedicated employees who continue working diligently on behalf of all Californians, and are committed to making funding decisions that support both them and the State Bar’s mission.”
Parker said on Sept. 1 that the State Bar would seek the special assessment, following adjournment of the Legislature. The Assembly unanimously passed a last-day 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 allegedly practicing law had been left unprocessed, among other things.
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