The State Bar of California announced this week that for the first time in almost 20 years, it will ask the state Supreme Court for authority to collect attorneys' dues next year.
The announcement comes after a bill aimed at reforming the bar failed to pass through the state’s most recent legislative session, which ended on Wednesday. The bill, SB-846, sought to divide the bar into two agencies, since it currently serves as both a trade group for lawyers and a regulatory body that is supposed to discipline attorneys.
The bill called for a shake up on the bar’s board of trustees, calling for the majority of seats to be held by those who don’t practice law. It also included a proposal to determine the bar’s annual dues. Those dues are paid by all lawyers in the state, and must be approved by the legislature each year.
According to a statement issued by the California State Bar on Thursday, the agency will ask for a court decision by early December so that fees can be collected on the usual schedule.
“The State Bar’s mission is public protection and we will continue to prioritize that work with as little disruption as possible,” said Elizabeth Parker, the executive director of the State Bar of California. “We’re going to get through this.”
The California State Bar has come under harsh criticism in recent months over mismanagement and misspending. Last week, the Investigative Unit revealed that a recent state audit shows the agency is overpaying its employees, all while the bar’s fund to repay victims of corrupt lawyers is millions of dollars short.
The audit points to a “lack of transparency” and “inappropriate financial decisions” that the agency tried to keep hidden from lawmakers.
According to the May 2016 state audit, “not only did [the California State Bar] fail to take steps to address the problem or to communicate the fund’s true financial situation, it did the opposite.”
In May, the Investigative Unit revealed how the bar was accused of failing to keep watch over some of the state’s worst attorneys.
According to a separate state audit released in June 2015, in trying to clear its backlog of consumer complaints against attorneys, the bar allowed some lawyers to continue practicing, even though they should have been disciplined or disbarred.