Saturday, June 18, 2016

Los Angeles Times: The California State Bar's dismal history shows why it should be broken up

The California State Bar has become as corrupt as the Arizona State Bar. California is a blue state, but even they realize how bad the sleaze is. Why would anyone want to become an attorney anymore? The California legislature is actively seeking to reform its Bar, to make much of its functions voluntary. We tried to do the same thing here in Arizona the last couple of years, but since the Arizona Bar  has the second highest dues of any state mandatory Bar in the country, it was like David v. Goliath; they could afford hours of lobbying that we couldn't counteract. Below are some excerpts from the article. Note the recent SCOTUS antitrust decision — the Ariz. Bar is even worse than the Calif. Bar violating it! 

According to the AZ Bar website, its ratio on the board of governors of attorneys v. non-attorneys is a mere four out of 30:

The Board is comprised of 30 people: four non-attorney, public members appointed by the Board; three at-large members appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court; 19 attorney members elected by fellow Bar members in their district; and four ex-officio members (immediate past president and the deans of Arizona's three law schools).
So here's the relevant excerpts from the LA Times -
Let’s put this in terms that even an attorney with peerless loophole-seeking skills would consider straightforward: the California State Bar is a mess. 
In recent years, the organization has been the target of withering state audits documenting misspent fees by the millions, overpaid executives, and inept management of its all-important duty of licensing lawyers and managing professional discipline. Its reputation is at a low ebb among state legislators, who last month placed on hold the organization’s yearly authorization to collect annual fees because the measure didn’t go far enough to achieve reform.
The Bar’s dual role as licenser and ethics enforcer as well as trade organization pushing policy changes,  critics say, leaves it hopelessly mired in a conflict of interest. 
“You don’t delegate regulatory power to a special interest group,” says Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law and a frequent critic of the Bar. “To let them be the decision-makers is obscene.”
These issues seem to crop up every few years, but seldom with as much urgency as now. That’s because a 2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has put professional licensing bodies on notice that they could be guilty of antitrust violations if a majority of their members are participants in the business they regulate.
The California State Bar is governed by a 19-member board of trustees, 13 of whom are lawyers. You do the math.
But the Supreme Court ruling sharpens the argument for splitting the Bar in two — into a trade association with voluntary membership, and a government body controlled by non-lawyers and responsible for professional licensing and discipline, much as medical professional standards are overseen by the Medical Board of California and political advocacy is left to the independent California Medical Association.
measure passed by the State Assembly in June 2 would place the “deunification”  of the Bar firmly on the front burner. The bill would create a commission to reconsider the Bar’s governing structure and report back to the legislature by April. The bill also would restructure the Bar board as a 13-member body with at least seven non-lawyer members — an effort to comply with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling.
Deunification is “the only real solution to the state bar’s chronic dysfunction,” says Dennis H. Mangers, a non-attorney Bar trustee who has submitted just such a proposal to the legislature. “The Bar should have only one purpose — to rid the profession of bad apples.”
That function often takes a back seat to the policy and social purposes that make the Bar resemble more a professional club than a regulator, according to critics. In legislative testimony last April, Fellmeth observed that the Bar sponsors 30 different programs offering professional services to its members, often at a group discount, including financial advice, insurance, consumer products and software. “No other occupational licensing agency offers any of these goods and services to its licensees,” he said.
The Bar tends to hold itself exempt from state rules applied to other state agencies on grounds that it’s an arm of the State Supreme Court; critics say it still regularly violates the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which requires at least 10 days public notice of any meetings and forbids members to discuss business with each other except in an open forum, despite a measure passed last year bringing it under Bagley-Keene’s jurisdiction. 
In the mid-1980s, the legislature imposed an enforcement monitor for the organization. Fellmeth, who served in that role for five years, found that clients were systematically discouraged from pursuing complaints. For example, the Bar had established a toll-free hotline, but hadn’t listed the number anywhere “a consumer might logically look to find it.”
Howle found that the Bar was squandering resources that should have been spent on hiring more enforcement staff. In 2012, the organization spent $76.6 million to buy and refurbish a Los Angeles office building to supplement its San Francisco headquarters — about twice what it spent on discipline that year.
The Bar’s structure as a combined trade association and enforcement body dates from 1927 and isn’t unique.  But their day may be passing, says Ted Schnayer, an expert on Bar governance at the University of Arizona.

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