Monday, October 12, 2009

Schwarzenegger Vetoes SB 641

State Bar Dues Bill For 2010 Vetoed by Governor

The California State Bar regulates more than 220,000 lawyers who practice in the state and is facing uncertainty following the governor’s veto of its annual dues bill for 2010.

Senate Bill 641 by Democratic state Sen. Ellen Corbett from San Leandro would have allowed the State Bar to continue to collect membership dues of $410 next year. The veto serves to pull the plug on the organization next year unless there is some action to remedy the situation.

The veto follows a critical report by the State Auditor in July that cited numerous problems, including:

• The cost of its disciplinary system increased by $12 million from 2004 to 2008, while the number of disciplinary inquiries declined.

• A lack of internal controls allowed a former employee to embezzle almost $676,000 from the organization.

• Recent actions by the State Bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission call into question the organization’s impartiality in considering judicial appointments.

“There is no question 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 lawyers. However, I am returning this bill without my signature because the State Bar cannot continue with business as usual,” Schwarzenegger said in his veto message. “I urge the State Bar to resolve these issues as soon as possible so the Legislature can reintroduce this measure early next year.”

State Bar president Howard Miller called the veto “regrettable,” but said the organization must take the concerns seriously.

“Many of them are justified,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “There have been serious management and financial issues at the State Bar, starting with the embezzlement by a single employee over an eight-year period of $675,000. . . . Events such as (the ) veto message can challenge the State Bar to renew itself as an institution and its service to the public and the legal profession. I am confident the Board of Governors is up to that challenge.”

Former Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the annual dues bill in 1997, citing concerns the organization had become overly political, unresponsive to its membership and inefficient. The cash-strapped bar had to lay off almost 500 employees and essentially shut down its disciplinary system before former Gov. Gray Davis revived the organization when he signed a new dues bill in 1999. It specified reforms and required the organization to submit regular financial and performance audits.

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