Lawmakers revise bar proposals
for governance reform
By Nancy McCarthy
Sacramento lawmakers last month proposed amendments to the 2012 State Bar fee bill that will revamp how the bar is governed, but the proposals differ from the majority and minority reports sent to the legislature by a governance task force. The amendments, which will reduce the board of governors from 23 to 19 members, are a compromise that draws elements from the dueling recommendations adopted by the bar panel. They were unanimously approved on the Senate floor; the bill next goes to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
The changes reportedly had input from leadership in both houses and the chairs of the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees.
The 19 members would include six lawyers elected from redrawn bar districts aligned with court of appeal districts, five lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court and two more attorneys appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee. The number of public members remains at six; they will be appointed the same way they are now ― four by the governor and one each by the Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules Committee. All board members would serve a three-year term. The amendments also propose creation of a Supreme Court merit screening committee, the possibility of reappointment or reelection of board members, a potential two-year term for the president and a specific public protection charge. The board of governors will get a new name ― the board of trustees.
The bar’s fee bill, SB 163 authorizes unchanged dues for next year. The board of governors will hold a special meeting June 17 to decide whether to take a position on the measure.
The proposal strikes a compromise between two reports sent last month to the legislature, the governor and the Supreme Court by the Governance in the Public Interest task force, created last year under a requirement of the 2011 fee bill. Although the legislative mandate was a focus on bar governance with an emphasis on public protection, the proposals boil down to who will serve on the board of governors and how they’ll get there.
“I’m really pleased the legislature seriously considered the recommendations of the task force and sought to implement them in the upcoming dues bill,” said bar President Bill Hebert, who called the proposal “a big advance for public protection.”
The amendments would require the bar to develop a plan for making the changes by the end of 2012 and to complete the changes by Oct. 31, 2014. New officers would include a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer elected from among all board members. Currently, the president is chosen from the third-year members who are all vice presidents. The president also is given full voting power; now the president can vote only to break a tie.
The task force’s majority report, supported by seven of the 11 members, was a “hybrid” that would have continued the existing 23-member board, with six public members, but called for both appointed and elected attorney members. Twelve lawyers would be elected from five districts, three would be appointed by the Supreme Court after vetting by a screening committee, and the California Young Lawyers Association would have a seat. Backers of the majority report all are attorneys.
The minority report, supported by Hebert and three others, calls for a 15-member all-appointed board of nine lawyers and six public members. The Supreme Court would appoint the lawyer members. In addition to Hebert, supporters of the proposal include the task force’s two public members and one lawyer.
The proposals were in accord in only four areas: renaming the panel a Board of Trustees, adding Supreme Court appointments to the board, creating a screening committee and permitting reappointment of board members. The legislative amendments adopt all four provisions. The elected attorneys will be drawn from districts aligned with district courts of appeal, and the amendments also require the board to conform to Bagley-Keene open meeting requirements, which mandate public meetings for state agencies, boards and commissions.
Several lawyer members of the board of governors who were not on the task force, as well as attorneys who testified at the 12 public meetings, said they favored the status quo, primarily because they feel lawyers are best-equipped to address the many legal policy issues the bar board faces. But public members objected to the State Bar’s status as the only self-policing agency in California, a situation that violates sound oversight principles, they said.
Neither the task force recommendations nor the legislative amendments address the contentious question of whether the bar should be “unified.” Some public members are adamant that the bar be split into a mandatory regulatory agency and a voluntary trade association.
The 77-page task force report was submitted May 15 to the Supreme Court, the governor and the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees.