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Appointment likely for some bar board members

Dueling proposals for governing the State Bar will be sent to the legislature and the Supreme Court this month, and despite their differences, it seems likely that some lawyers on future boards of governors will be appointed rather than elected.

A task force appointed to address bar governance, with an emphasis on public protection, approved two reports last month and despite the legislature’s apparent interest in overhauling the organization, a “hybrid” proposal to leave the board of governors at 23 members gained the support of a majority of the panel. Only four panel members signed on to an “all-appointed” proposal that also shrinks the board 23 to 15.

The recommendations were drawn up at the direction of the legislature, which offered the option of submitting majority and minority reports.

Although they differ in key respects, both proposals include:

  • More lawyers than public members on the board.
  • Appointed lawyer members would be named by the Supreme Court, with the help of a merit screening committee.
  • The board of governors will be renamed the board of trustees.
  • Public protection will be added to the bar’s statutory mission.
  • The selection of the six public members is unchanged; they are appointed by the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee.

The all-appointed model, submitted by President Bill Hebert, goes farther than the majority report in several areas. It eliminates the board seat currently held by the California Young Lawyers Association, recommends appointment of the president by the Supreme Court and requires the bar to offer 25 hours of free continuing education in ethics.

It also tackles the contentious question of whether the bar should be “unified” and recommends presenting by 2013 a two-year timeline for splitting the organization into a mandatory regulatory agency and a voluntary trade association.

The majority proposal, supported by seven panel members, calls for the appointment of three lawyers to the board of governors, the election of 12 from five bar districts, and a seat for a young lawyer representative. Some members could be reappointed, a new executive committee would be created and half of the board’s two regulatory committees would be public members.

The governance task force was legislatively mandated as part of the 2011 fee bill and is required to make recommendations “for enhancing and ensuring that public protection is the highest priority in the licensing, regulation and discipline of attorneys.” Lawmakers acted after discerning a bias in several actions prior boards took, including a liability insurance disclosure requirement that opponents considered watered-down and a Find Legal Help feature on the website that doesn’t permit searches by practice.

The task force recommendations must be presented to the Supreme Court, the governor and the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees by May 15. It will be up to the legislature to adopt or reject the elements of each proposal.