Sure I thought it was grand the California State Auditor again stepped on the State Bar of California last week. My praise, though, is restrained. The California Bar has sustained plenty of hits and fault-finding the past 30 years.1 And still it has resisted genuine reforms. Apart from that, the Cal Bar getting stomped on is such old hat that even the beaver and muskrat’s come off.
Indeed, just last June the state auditor alleged the Cal Bar may have put the public at risk by going soft on discipline by rushing settlements to reduce a festering 5,000+ lawyer disciplinary case backlog. The auditor also berated the Bar for going $50 million over-budget on a building renovation. In sum, the report declared the Cal Bar “has not consistently protected the public through its attorney discipline process and lacks accountability.”
On the heels of that, last July I criticized the Arizona Supreme Court’s on State Bar Mission and Governance for inexplicably consulting the California Bar about its governance reforms — as though the Cal Bar’s done such a good job of that. “That’s like asking Kim Kardashian about modesty or Donald Trump about hairdos,” I quipped.
Today, I still wonder, ‘What’s next?’ Consult Trump on Hispanic outreach?
State audit rips Cal Bar.
The 62-page audit report concerning the Cal Bar’s financial operations and management practices was released last Thursday. It decried the Bar’s lack of transparency, the excessive salaries paid its executives and its massive budget shortfall to repay victims of attorney misconduct. When I saw the headlines about non-transparency and inflated executive compensation, for a moment I thought the story was about the State Bar of Arizona.
But no, it was the California Bar. Also see “Audit rips California’s state bar for shady finances and bloated salaries.”
About those so-called inflated salaries, the auditor recommended that “to ensure that the compensation it provides its executives is reasonable, the State Bar should include in the comprehensive salary and benefits study it plans to complete by October 2016 the data for salaries and benefits for comparable positions in the state government’s executive branch.”
According to Table 8 of the auditor’s report, the Bar’s Executive Director earns $267,500 per year while the Governor of California makes $182,784 annually. At 146% of what the governor makes, the value of presiding over the world’s 8th largest economy clearly pales in comparison to running the nation’s largest bar association. Meanwhile, at 18,250 active members, the State Bar of Arizona is one-tenth the size of the Cal Bar’s 186, 346 active members. And at $65M, the Cal Bar’s budget is more than 4 times the size of Arizona’s. All the same, the Arizona Bar’s Executive Director also makes more than the California Governor.
Several months ago, a local Arizona Bar apologist took exception to my comparing the Arizona Bar Executive Director’s annual compensation with that of Arizona’s Governor. He told me comparing the executive director’s salary with Arizona government employees was “meaningless.” Arizona state employees are “underpaid,” he scolded. And in any case, the governor gets a lot of non-salary perks. If you look at the table below obtained via Ballotpedia, he’s right. The Arizona Governor is indeed underpaid along with everyone else in state government — not just the executive branch.
|State executive officials|
|Office and current official||Salary|
|Governor of Arizona Doug Ducey||$95,000|
|Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan||$70,000|
|Attorney General of Arizona Mark Brnovich||$90,000|
|Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit||$70,000|
Just the same, the Cal auditor’s advice remains sound, to ensure reasonableness, “the data for salaries and benefits for comparable positions in the state government’s executive branch” ought to be included in any state bar salary review.
Per the federally mandated IRS Form 990 disclosures on the State Bar of Arizona’s website, the most recently available 2014 IRS Form 990 reveals the Arizona Bar’s Executive Director makes 2 times the Arizona governor’s salary. The data, though, is two years old. As a matter of fact, buried in the May 2016 issue of the bar’s monthly magazine, was a brief mention that in February the Board unanimously approved the Executive Compensation Committee’s recommendation to give the Executive Director another raise.
What it all means for transparency.
The real implications from the Cal audit report are what they mean for transparency. The legal establishment isn’t known for transparency — their disingenuous exhortations notwithstanding. That’s why I believe transparency suffers where public records access and disclosure mandates aren’t overseen by independent non-legal establishment third parties.
In Texas, for example, the Texas State Bar discloses a lot. Admittedly, that’s not necessarily because it wants to — but because it has to. The Texas Bar is subject to State Sunset Law review of its mission, continued viability, fiscal management and performance by the Texas Sunset Commission. This review by legislators and public members is required by the Texas Sunset Act.
Years ago, Arizona had a Sunset Law that likewise applied to the State Bar of Arizona. But that ended in 1985 when the State Bar Act sunsetted over a dispute between the Bar and the Arizona Legislature and before the State Bar could or would open its management and financial kimono. So when the Texas Bar opens its books, it does so not as much by choice but as by statute.
The California Bar must likewise open its financial operations and management practices not by dint of munificence for open government but as required by the State Bar Act under Business and Professions Code §6145.
The lesson in Arizona, then, is that to ensure free and open governance and preserve the public’s unfettered access to financial and management information, the State Bar of Arizona needs to be treated like every other state regulator. This means being subject to Arizona Public Records Law, A.R.S. §§ 39-101 to -161 not Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123.
Although Arizona Courts meet the plain meaning of a “public body” supported by state monies, the high court has deemed that Arizona courts are not subject to Arizona’s public records laws. Instead, the Court says it alone under its own Rule 123 constitutionally dictates the breadth of what governs the maintenance and disclosure of its records.2
Not that the Arizona Supreme Court is alone in that thinking. In 2009, the Washington State Supreme Court expanded on that view in City of Federal Way v. Koenig. And in 2013, the Nevada Supreme Court followed in the same general direction in Civil Rights for Seniors, v. Administrative Office of the Courts.
Under Arizona public records law, most documents in a public officer’s possession are public records — except for documents that relate solely to personal matters with no relation to official duties. Rule 123(e), on the other hand, restricts access to certain administrative records including employee records, judicial case assignments, and what it alone determines is attorney and judicial work product. Ariz. R. Sup.Ct. 123(e)(1)(11)
The State Bar Mission and Governance task force has proposed the Arizona Bar not fall under Arizona Public Records Law. Rather it recommends the Bar “conduct meetings and maintain records pursuant to public access policies adopted by the Supreme Court.” How much transparency will that entail? What judicial records does the Bar create that have relation to Rule 123?
And besides, as I recently posted, the Arizona Bar already thinks “our organization has worked to be exceptionally transparent.”
1 For more Golden State Bar dysfunction, see “California State Bar in Turmoil After Shake-up Triggers Whistleblower Claim.”
2 In Arpaio v. Davis, the Court of Appeals explained:
“Arizona’s constitution provides that “[t]he Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all the courts of the State.” Ariz. Const., art. 6, § 3. This administrative power “is a function of its responsibility to administer an integrated judiciary.” Scheehle v. Justices of the Ariz. Supreme Court, 211 Ariz. 282, 289, ¶ 27, 120 P.3d 1092, 1100 (2005). The Supreme Court fulfills its administrative responsibilities by promulgating rules. Id. at ¶ 23, 120 P.3d at 1099. “Such rules are valid even if they are not completely cohesive with related legislation, so long as they are an appropriate exercise of the court’s constitutional authority.” Id. at ¶ 24, 120 P.3d at 1099. Accordingly, Rule 123—not the Arizona Public Records Law—controls requests for judicial records.”
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