Thursday, June 27, 2019
Office of Legislative Analyst:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The $100 a year boost in dues for active members and a one-time $250 special assessment sought by the State Bar are excessive, the Office of Legislative Analyst said in a report released yesterday which calls for increased legislative oversight of the 270,000-member organization which admits and regulates lawyers.
The report says the Legislature might consider a “bare bones” increase of $34, a medium increase of $45, or a high increase of $69.
An executive summary declares:
“Portions of the proposed ongoing fee increase seem reasonable, while others raise concerns. Specifically, providing an ongoing fee increase to address (1) an operating deficit and (2) a salary increase for represented employees seems reasonable. In contrast, the State Bar’s proposed extension of retiree health benefits is a policy decision that is out of step with other public employers. Additionally, the request for additional disciplinary staff may be premature. Finally, the request for an annual inflationary adjustment lacks justification and could limit legislative oversight.”
It goes on to say:
“Regardless of what fee level ultimately is approved by the Legislature, our review of the State Bar indicates that increased legislative oversight could be beneficial to ensure (1) that fee revenues are assessed appropriately to support expenditures that are consistent with legislative expectations and priorities and (2) that funds are used in an accountable and transparent manner. Such oversight can occur in various ways—such as including the State Bar in the annual budgeting process and/or requiring reporting on various performance or outcome measures.”
The report contains the following chart:
At present, active members pay base annual dues of $315 but, with an added $25 for disciplinary activities, $40 for the Client Security Fund, $10 for the Lawyer Assistance Program, and $40 for legal aid, dues total $430, or $383 with deductions.
$862 Increase Sought
If the State Bar gets what it is asking for, dues will burgeon in 2020 to $862 but, with permissible deductions would be $815—which is $432 more than this year. Of that amount, $332 would be on a one-time basis; $250 would go toward capital and technology investments and there would be an $82 increase, in 2020 only, in the contribution to the Client Security Fund.
State Auditor Elaine Howle in April declared that the $432 boost in dues the State Bar seeks is excessive, and that an increase to $525 would suffice.
While the State Bar wants to hire 58 persons to investigate claims of professional misconduct, Howle said that streamlining of disciplinary process is what is needed, and only 19 new employees would be needed.
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