Reacting to a legislative stalemate over the State Bar’s future, the California Supreme Court late Thursday authorized the legal profession’s regulatory agency to collect $297 in dues from each state-licensed attorney next year – enough to cover its basic functions but less than it wanted.
The Legislature adjourned in August without approving the annual bill to authorize collection of attorney dues to finance the agency, despite intensive negotiations that focused on whether the State Bar should continue as both a regulatory body and a legal profession trade association.
Critics say it has neglected the former, particularly weeding out bad lawyers, as it concentrates on the latter, citing a series of financial irregularities. The State Bar has overhauled its administration and undertaken a series of reforms it says should satisfy the critics.
The Assembly passed a bill with reforms that included possibly eliminating the Bar’s trade association functions. The bill was blocked by senators who said it went too far. The Senate’s position had the support of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
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In response to the stalemate, Cantil-Sakauye directed the State Bar to seek temporary dues authority and it did, but asked for substantially more than basic support. The court rejected the extra funds it sought in Thursday’s unanimous order, saying it “specifically excludes any funding for the State Bar’s legislative lobbying, elimination of bias and bar relations programs.”
In effect, therefore, the court’s order maintains pressure on the Legislature to resolve the larger issues surrounding the State Bar when it reconvenes in December.
The court also named appellate court Justice Elwood Lui as a special master to oversee the collection and expenditure of the $297 dues authorization.