California Gov. Vetoes State Bar Association Funding Authorization Citing Internal Problems –including high cost of disciplinary system

 

Excerpted article By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Metropolitan News-Enterprise  October 13, 2009

 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed SB 641, which would have extended the State Bar’s authority to collect annual membership dues through 2010.

 In his letter to the Senate, Schwarzenegger explained that he was returning the measure by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, without his signature on Sunday “because the State Bar cannot continue with business as usual.”

 State Bar President Howard B. Miller yesterday told the MetNews that “we take the governor’s concerns very seriously,” and that the organization was “going to focus intensely on trying to craft a compromise with the Legislature and governor” that takes the governor’s concerns into account “in the next few weeks.”

 Miller added that the State Bar was “continuing to function” and had enough funds to continue operations through 2009.

 ‘Drastic Response’

Gov. Schwarzenegger insisted that the State Bar must itself “be above reproach” since it is charged with regulating the professional conduct of its members, but “[r]egrettably, it is not.”

 The governor opined that “inefficiencies remain unaddressed” by the State Bar, and that the group maintained a “political agenda.”

 He cited a report by the State Auditor released in July which stated that salaries for State Bar staff have risen significantly over the past five years, and that the costs of the disciplinary system escalated $12 million even though the number of inquiries conducted declined between 2004 and 2008.

Schwarzenegger also noted “a lack of internal controls” which allowed a former employee to embezzle nearly $676,000 from the organization.

 The governor went on to reference the media leak of Fifth District Court of Appeal Justice Charles Poochigian’s “not qualified” rating by the State Bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission.

 All JNE Commission proceedings are required by law to be confidential and qualification ratings are not to be released to the public prior to the governor considering an appointment.

 Schwarzenegger further expressed concern that the commission was not complying with Government Code Sec. 12010.6(d)—part of legislation enacted two years ago in an effort to increase the diversity of the bench—in considering judicial nominees.

 The legislation states, in part:

“The State Bar shall consider legal experience broadly, including, but not limited to, litigation and nonlitigation experience, legal work for a business or nonprofit entity, experience as a law professor or other academic position, legal work in any of the three branches of government, and legal work in dispute resolution.”

 After Poochigian’s August confirmation hearing, a spokesperson for Chief Justice Ronald M. George said that he had “substantial doubts” the JNE commission’s conclusion that Poochigian lacked the “actual practical legal experience” required of an appellate justice took the Sec. 12010.6(d) factors into consideration.

 Schwarzenegger said the commission “[b]y failing to follow the law, damaged its reputation for impartiality and, in turn, the State Bar’s.”

 Acknowledging that the State Bar “has an essential role in the state’s justice system and must continue to oversee the licensing, education, and discipline of California’s lawyers,” Schwarzenegger urged the group to “take the time to re-examine the problems noted…[and] resolve these issues as soon as possible so the Legislature can reintroduce this measure early next year.”

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