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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Bar makes fee request to Supreme Court

Editors note: On Oct. 31, the State Bar submitted supplemental information to its fee request to the California Supreme Court. The filing, along with the amicus briefs filed in the case, are posted online.

The State Bar of California has submitted a request to the California Supreme Court asking the court to grant the authority to collect fees. This submission follows a letter from the court requesting this action, and is informed by the Supreme Court’s 1998 In re Attorney Discipline System decision.

As authorized by the Board of Trustees, the State Bar’s request provides several options the court can consider. The submission asks the court to rule by the end of November in order to allow the bar to issue fee statements beginning in early December, on the usual schedule.

“I’m confident that the request we submitted will provide the court with the information it needs to act on our request and look forward to its early positive response,” State Bar President David J. Pasternak said. “In the meantime, we are in the process of continuing important reforms to ensure the State Bar is doing the best possible job at public protection for all Californians.”

Consistent with the board’s resolution, the request asks for the ability to collect fees for attorney discipline as well as pro-active public protection activities such as access to justice initiatives. The request thus tracks the 2012 statutory language which introduced public protection as the State Bar’s core mission, a concept which the 2016 Governance in the Public Interest Task Force found to include both proactive and reactive efforts to ensure attorney discipline, professional excellence and a healthy legal system, accessible to all.

The assessment options also include amounts that would be necessary in order to implement legislatively mandated workforce planning reforms, as well as to expedite case processing times in the bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel.
The State Bar also hopes to move forward with seeking appointment of a monitor to ensure the effectiveness of the discipline system, a reform agreed upon by both the legislature and the California Supreme Court. The cost of a monitor is also identified in the Court submission.

The request to the court comes after the legislature was unable to pass a fee bill this year. The funding at issue in the fee bill and the request to the court is part of the State Bar’s general fund, which is comprised in large part of mandatory member fees. Some programs, for example admissions and sections, will not be affected because they are outside the general fund and are separately funded. Attorneys licensed in California are required to pay an annual fee. None of the State Bar’s funding comes directly from taxpayers.

In a 1998 Supreme Court order, In re Attorney Discipline System, the court granted interim authority for the State Bar to collect fees. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson had vetoed a fee bill in 1997, and the bar went without adequate funding in 1998, resulting in significant loss of staff and the cessation of State Bar public protection functions. The In re Attorney Discipline System decision found that the public and the courts in California suffered tremendous harm when the State Bar was without adequate funding and unable to carry out its functions. The Supreme Court found that it had the duty to authorize the State Bar to collect fees on an interim basis until the legislature acted to pass a law.

“We need the funding to support the employees who are crucial to achieving our public protection mission and implementing the many important reforms before us,” Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, executive director of the State Bar of California, said. “We will also be working closely with the legislature and the court to continue making needed reforms a reality. Ultimately, our work is for the benefit of Californians, and we’re seeking to do our best public protection work on their behalf.”