Wednesday, June 19, 2002
C.A. Upholds Rule for Classifying Lawyers in State Service
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The First District Court of Appeal has upheld a State Personnel Board rule that prevents relevant legal experience prior to State Bar admission from being used to classify attorneys in the civil service.
The court Monday, in an unpublished opinion, rejected an effort by Deputy Attorney General Joel Jacobs to obtain credit in the state’s classification plan for much of the 16-month period between his graduation from law school and his admission to the State Bar, in August 1994.
Jacobs argued that his service as law clerk to an Alaska Supreme Court justice should count, and that the state was being arbitrary in denying credit, since that service would have counted if he was a State Bar member at the time.
Jacobs, a 1993 Boalt Hall graduate, clerked for U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen of the Northern District of California for one year after his admission, then spent more than two years at Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe before joining the Attorney General’s Office where he started in February 1998.
Under the classification system, deputy attorneys generals are assigned to Classes I through IV, with Class I being made up of the least experienced lawyers. Class I lawyers are divided into Ranges A through D, based upon their duties, with Range D lawyers those who handle the most “sensitive and complex” work.
Jacobs started as a Deputy Attorney General I, Range C. In December 1998, he was elevated to Range D, which requires a minimum of four years legal experience.
In January 2000, he applied for promotion to Deputy Attorney General III, which requires a minimum of six years legal experience. Personnel officials informed him that he was ineligible because he fell short of the six years.
After losing an internal appeal, Jacobs petitioned the San Francisco Superior Court for a writ of mandate. The petition was denied.
In affirming Monday, the Court of Appeal said the adoption of the rule was within the State Personnel Board’s authority and was reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the civil service laws.
“The clear purposes of the rule are (1) to supply a method for ensuring that applicants for promotion are well qualified to perform the type of work they will be expected to perform, and (2) to impose some uniformity on the criteria by which prior experience is judged,” Presiding Justice William McGuiness wrote for Div. Three.
“Admittance by the California State Bar to practice in this state is a reasonable standard for the evaluation of an individual’s legal work history in determining his or her qualifications for promotion to DAG III, since it clearly and unambiguously demonstrates that the candidate has satisfied the standards for performing professional legal work in California,” the jurist continued.
While an applicant may have gained valuable experience clerking before admission, or practicing as a member of another state’s bar, there is no guarantee that the applicant met the “rigorous” standards required of California lawyers during that period, McGuiness said.
“The exclusion of legal experience gained prior to admission to the State Bar of California serves the rational and commendable purpose of applying the same demanding professional standards required of all persons actually employed as attorneys for the State of California to the criteria by which to weigh their prior legal experience for purposes of qualifying for civil service promotion,” he reasoned.
The case is Jacobs v. California Department of Justice, A095600.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company