Calif. Lawmakers Reject State Bar Reforms

     SACRAMENTO (CN) — Demanding stronger reforms in the troubled California State Bar, lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that sought to rearrange the agency’s board of trustees.
     Bipartisan legislators in the Assembly defeated the annual State Bar proposal 10 to 50 and called for large-scale changes to the agency that was blasted in a recent state audit for shortcomings in its transparency and accounting.
     “It’s time that we send a clear message to the State Bar that we are not happy with how they’ve dealt with our directive, that they need to do more and that they need to be reformed,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, an attorney.
     Assembly Bill 2878, by Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, would have changed the makeup of the Bar’s board of trustees by eliminating representatives elected by State Bar districts, and would have frozen Bar membership dues. New board members would have been required to have educational or professional experience in one of five specified areas, including public finance.
     Before the Assembly floor vote, a row of Democratic and Republican lawmakers derided the Bar for its lack of transparency and cited the damaging audit as the reason to kill the simple Bar dues bill.
     In May, a report released by State Auditor Elaine Howle revealed that the State Bar owes millions of dollars in compensation to victims of attorney misconduct, yet continues to give its top executives large salary raises. The audit also found that the State Bar mismanaged member fees and that its disciplinary backlog has grown exponentially.
     Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, likened the failures to the sinking of the Titanic, and implored his colleagues to “turn it around.”
     While the measure passed the Assembly Judiciary committee unanimously, the finished product did not contain the tough reforms that many lawmakers had asked for, said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine. Wagner said he voted for the bill in April on the premise that it would be amended to come down hard on the Bar’s management process.
     “As it stands, this does not do what the entire committee in a bipartisan manner said absolutely needs to be done,” Wagner said.
     Stone said he has been working on the bill with the California Supreme Court and he expects to bring it up for a re-vote before Friday’s legislative deadline.
     “This is new territory for me,” Stone said after the vote.

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