Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Governor Signs State Bar Dues Bill Limiting Scaling
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Gov. Gray Davis said yesterday that he has signed into law a State Bar dues bill placing new limitations on dues waivers available to low income lawyers.
The legislation, AB 1708, permits the bar to collect dues at the current rate—a base rate of $310 annually for active members—through 2004. Bar dues are payable by Feb. 1 each year.
Base dues for inactive members are $40, and are waived for those over 70 years of age. Actual charges also include additional fees bringing the total to $390 for active and $50 for inactive members.
But the bill changes the “scaling” rules under which attorneys can presumptively qualify for a waiver of either 25 percent or 50 percent of their base dues.
This year, lawyers who earned less than $25,000 annually from law practice qualified for the 50 percent reduction, while those who earned less than $40,000 could get the 25 percent reduction. For 2004, AB 1708 changes the income figure for the 50 percent reduction to $30,000, and provides that all incomeónot just income from the practice of law—must be considered.
The income level needed to presumptively qualify for the 25 percent reduction is unchanged, and still includes only law-related income. But the legislation adds a definition of income from the practice of law, specifying that it includes any income “derived from the provision of arbitration, mediation, referee, or other dispute resolution services.”
In adopting its budget for 2003-2004, the bar estimated that the scaling changes would net at least $1 million in additional dues revenue, and newly installed State Bar President Tony Capozzi has suggested the figure could be substantially higher. Last year about 22,500 lawyers took advantage of the fee scaling provisions, according to State Bar budgeting estimates.
In his inaugural address Saturday at the State Bar Convention in Anaheim, Capozzi said it was too soon to say whether a dues increase would be needed in 2005. The bar dues have not changed since 2000.
Capozzi noted that the bar has laid off employees and said a dues increase would be a “last resort.”
But he has also said he believes the inactive dues are too low. The State Bar’s effort to include an increase in the inactive dues in AB 1708 was abandoned this year in the face of legislative opposition.
AB 1708 also gives the State Bar authority to enforce as a money judgment, and to include in a member’s dues bill, the costs assessed under current law when a lawyer is publicly reproved or disciplined or when a lawyer resigns from the State Bar while a disciplinary matter is pending. The bar could also enforce as money judgments assessment against lawyers whose misconduct required payments to their clients from the bar’s Client Security Fund.
AB 1708 was passed by the Senate on Aug. 25 by a vote of 28-8. It passed the Assembly Aug. 28 on a 61-16 vote.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company