In a disappointing move for proponents of public oversight of the bar, on November 17 the California Supreme Court authorized its State Bar Association to collect interim dues from its members for 2017. Responsive Law testified on this issue to the California Supreme Court, urging it to tie any such authorization to a requirement that the State Bar pursue reform of its governance structures.
The California Supreme Court itself had earlier mandated that the State Bar of California act to segregate its attorney discipline and trade organization functions, reacting to a recent US Supreme Court case holding that professional organizations may not use their regulatory functions to stifle marketplace competition. Despite this mandate, the Special Regulatory Assessment requested by the Bar made no effort to address shortcomings in the Bar's current governance system.
"The California Supreme Court's decision to authorize the assessment even in the absence of reform is an unfortunate defeat for consumers of legal services, who need reform to make the judicial system more responsive and accountable to the interests of the public," stated Responsive Law Executive Director Tom Gordon. "In California and across the nation, state bars need to adapt their practices both to serve the public and to conform with the US Supreme Court's standards for professional regulatory organizations."
Lynn Bechtol is a Responsive Law Legal Fellow.