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Posts Tagged ‘bar bifurcation’

History was made today in California. Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 36, unprecedented legislation that required painstaking effort the past two years to realize. Bar reform failed in 2016 but this time was different. The legislation sailed through both legislative chambers.

SB 36 increases the California State Bar’s focus on its core regulatory functions — public protection, admissions, licensing and lawyer discipline. It accomplishes this by requiring the California Bar to transfer its 16 specialty sections (with more than 60,000 members) and the California Young Lawyers Association (with its 48,000 members) to create what becomes the nation’s second largest voluntary association of lawyers after the American Bar Association.

The functions and activities of the existing Sections will become a part of a new private, non-profit corporate entity, defined as the Association. The Association will be governed by a board of directors selected by the individual sections themselves. It is not part of the State Bar. Moreover, the Association is prohibited from being funded by membership fees and is not considered a state, local, or other public body for any purpose.

Membership in the new organization is strictly voluntary. It will receive no funding from the State Bar’s mandatory membership fees – though members will have the convenience of continuing their Section membership as the Section dues check-off will remain on the State Bar dues statements.

Focus on public protection

Under the new law, the implementation process begins January 1, 2018. The current 19-member State Bar governing board will transition to a 13-member board with a maximum of 6 non-lawyer public board members. Unlike the current State Bar Act that required the board to elect or select the president and vice president, the new law requires the California Supreme Court to appoint a chair and vice chair. The State Bar is also required to adhere to a Supreme Court-approved policy to identify and address any proposed board decisions that trigger antitrust concerns. Read the entire bill text here.

Two-headed Bar

Meanwhile back in the Arizona desert, similar legislative efforts to carve out the regulatory from the non-regulatory functions of the Arizona Bar continue road-blocked. Arizona Bar bureaucrats and entrenched establishment interests have strenuously fought any proposed bar reform legislation. More recently, the Bar opposed a rule petition that would have split the functions of the Arizona Bar into two distinct subsets, a mandatory membership organization (“Mandatory Bar”) and a purely voluntary membership organization (“Voluntary Bar”).

In Arizona — and what will soon no longer be the case in California — the Arizona Bar has two heads. It acts as both regulator protecting the public from unethical lawyers — while at the same time acting as the trade association looking out for the interests of lawyers. This creates a conflict of interest. The interests of the public and the interests of lawyers are not the same.

In California, the Sections had for decades been a part of the regulatory umbrella of the State Bar. During that time the Sections worked on behalf of lawyer interests providing them trade association-like benefits and services.

But unlike Arizona and other reform-resistant jurisdictions like Washington and Wisconsin, the separation of regulatory from non-regulatory functions was finally accomplished only through collective effort. The bill signed by California’s governor today came about through collaboration by the legislature, the State Bar, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, the Sections and other stakeholders working together to make history.

Only time will tell whether California’s hard-fought success now helps to put two-headed bars in other states not just on notice —  but on the block.

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High temperatures, sweaty cheeks, thunderstorms, flash floods and fungus-dispersing dust storms are our annual devil’s brew during monsoon season. This time of year is the flip side of what locals otherwise consider heaven.

Circumstances permitting, more fortunate desert dwellers of the non-snowbird variety temporarily pack up their monkey butt powder and flee for whatever short-lived respite is found in cooler climes.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/Demonstration_of_Sweat.jpgBut notwithstanding sticky summer’s infernal doldrums, elsewhere there’s news of a different sort involving your friendly state bar associations. Here’s a quick rundown from The Irreverent notebook:

Washington State Bar President Unexpectedly Resigns

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/54/Flag_of_Washington.svg/320px-Flag_of_Washington.svg.pngWithout much notice or fanfare but citing “personal matters that require her attention,” Washington State Bar President Robin Haynes abruptly resigned last month following news reports she was under investigation stemming from accusations by two former law firm employers claiming Haynes had committed financial improprieties, specifically allegations she embezzled some $9,300. See “WA State Bar Association president accused of embezzling nearly $10k” and “President Of Washington Bar Association Resigns — Right Before The Criminal Charges.”

In a statement reported by Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, Haynes’ lawyer explained, “While Ms. Haynes has done nothing wrong and looks forward to clearing her name in a fair tribunal, she was also aware that even the rumor of an investigation would cast a shadow over the important work that the State Bar Association does.” See “Former bar president accused of using law firms’ credit cards for gym, political donations.”

Haynes who at 39 was also publicized as the youngest Washington Bar president ever — had a term that was not without some controversy. This is because she used her ‘bully pulpit’ to editorialize often in the state bar magazine against sexism and bias. In some ways, her admonitions took on the cast of what’s become the méthode du jour embodied in the polarizing proposed ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) amendment that would impose an unconstitutional speech code on lawyers. See “Allies in the Law” at February 2017 NW Lawyer where author and former WSBA Governor Phil Brady writes in her defense, “We’ve seen a lot of negative reaction to WSBA President Robin Haynes speaking up about the sexism present in our profession.”

Haynes, like the rest of bar leadership was also an ardent defender of the bar’s recently passed 141% dues increase. See “The Dialogue Continues.” Inasmuch as the bar’s governing board and court had nullified a member referendum calling for a dues increase vote, Washington State Senator and WSBA Member Mike Padden subsequently introduced Senate Bill 5721 to require the WSBA “to obtain an affirmative vote prior to increasing bar dues for membership.” Unfortunately, Padden’s bill did not get out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

California State Bar non-regulatory function split moving forward

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/98/California_State_Assembly_room_p1080879.jpg/320px-California_State_Assembly_room_p1080879.jpgLast week, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously approved SB 36, a bill that has had multiple amendments since it’s 2016 introduction. According to the July 17, 2017 assembly bill analysis, it “prioritizes the State Bar’s regulatory functions by separating the trade association functions into a new nonprofit and helping improve governance of the State Bar.”

To do this, SB 36 splits off the Cal Bar’s 16 specialty practice groups into a private nonprofit. The bill covers a lot of terrain impacting both bar governance and structure, including eliminating elections for officers of the Board of Trustees and changing the current governing board super majority into a simple majority of practicing lawyers. It also gives the Bar explicit authority to re-fingerprint active lawyers so that it can receive arrest alerts about them. Assuming swift legislative passage next month and gubernatorial signing, it becomes effective January 1, 2018.

Meanwhile in Arizona, a rule amendment petition asking the Arizona Supreme Court to similarly prioritize public protection by bifurcating the State Bar of Arizona’s regulatory and non-regulatory functions is still awaiting court action. In June, a reply was filed by the petitioner responding to the State Bar of Arizona’s wholly predictable comment against the petition. It’s worth reading here.

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Credits: monkey via morguefile.com; Washington flag, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; sweat demonstration by Dogbertio 14 at Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution; California State Assembly via Wikipedia by David Monniaux, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

 

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