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From the President

Due process at the heart of discipline standards reform

By Luis J. Rodriguez
President, State Bar of California

Luis RodriguezThis month, the State Bar begins a series of hearings on a subject that I’m sure many of you would prefer not to think about – the attorney discipline system. As a public defender, I have dealt with the criminal justice discipline system. This has given me an appreciation for many things. One of those is the commitment to preserve due process. But the appreciation for due process transcends all areas of the law. Therefore, the subject of these hearings should be something to care about even if you never expect to come into contact with the prosecutors in our Office of the Chief Trial Counsel.

Due process is fundamental to the practice of law and the justice system. We demand due process for our clients, and so it’s important that we apply the same principles of fairness when policing our own profession.

One way that the bar ensures fairness is through a set of discipline standards, which are used to determine the appropriate sanction in a particular case and ensure consistency in how cases are dealt with. The standards, spelled out in Title IV of the State Bar Rules of Procedure, were created in 1986 and streamlined last year.

Now it’s time to decide whether a more comprehensive overhaul is needed to maintain our commitment to due process.

I’ve appointed a diverse group of folks to undertake this mission. The first meeting of the Discipline Standards Task Force is set for May 12 in San Francisco. I strongly encourage you to attend. I’m confident that with your input, we’ll be able to answer that question.

In order to best fulfill our mission of protecting the public, the State Bar must focus not only on disciplining those attorneys who do harm, but also provide clarity to attorneys as to what is expected of them.

The discipline standards help provide that clarity. There are also a number of other checks and balances already built into the discipline system to ensure due process, including review by the State Bar Court Hearing Department, the State Bar Court Review Department and finally the California Supreme Court.

The task force is chaired by former State Bar Trustee Karen Goodman – whose knowledge of the discipline system is second to none – and includes representatives who bring the prosecution and the defense perspective. We want to hear from everyone.

To subscribe to email notifications for meetings of the task force and other Board of Trustees committees, please see the board information page of the State Bar website.