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Attorney discipline gets funding boost in 2017

The State Bar Board of Trustees approved a $164.7 million budget for 2017 that includes money for critical discipline-related initiatives despite reduced funding.

The vast majority of the funding received from mandatory attorney licensing fees goes to the attorney discipline system, including the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel, State Bar Court, and the Client Security Fund.

The bar’s largest source of General Fund revenue – from mandatory fees paid by attorneys – was 5.7 percent less this year due to the lack of an annual fee bill from the Legislature. The California Supreme Court issued an interim fee assessment order to fund the bar’s discipline-related functions.

Chief Operating Officer Leah Wilson said the budget “reflects a combination of cost reductions and use of reserves to ensure the stability and health of the organization, as well as our ability to advance key initiatives.”

In order to ensure a robust attorney discipline system, the budget boosts funding for the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, which investigates and prosecutes allegations of attorney misconduct.

The budget also earmarks money for a number of programs that were not funded by the court such as the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Committee, which vets potential judicial candidates for the governor’s office, and the bar’s work to increase access to legal services for low-income Californians.

Other one-time expenses in the budget include:

● $2.5 million to purchase an upgraded case management system that will improve the bar’s ability to effectively investigate, prosecute and adjudicate attorney misconduct.

● One-time distribution of $5.5 million in bank settlement funds to legal aid organizations that provide legal services to people who need an attorney but can’t afford one.

● $1.7 million of previously approved funds for building maintenance at the bar’s San Francisco headquarters.

To cover the costs, the budget reflects $3 million in spending cuts to travel, catering, temporary help and professional services and the use of $17.2 million in reserves.

The Office of Admissions, which administers the bar exam and reviews applicants for admission to the State Bar, will continue to be funded by the fees that applicants pay.

The budget approved by the Trustees will be delivered to the Legislature and Supreme Court in mid-February.

For more information about the budget, see the budget memo prepared for the Board of Trustees. See also the most recent audited financial statements