SAN FRANCISCO – The State Bar of California released its annual discipline report in June, which addressed the improvements made within the last year, as well as room for improvements in future studies.
The 119-page report breaks 2015 in a series of charts and statistics, along with detailed analysis, to show the State Bar's process and findings for the year.
"The complaints against attorneys, which it investigates and also prosecutes, when warranted, result in a broad array of recommended sanctions for attorneys found culpable of misconduct," the report said.
The State Bar explained that the discipline report was important to keep track of how it regulated the quality of attorneys practicing in California.
"The performance of the state bars discipline system is a crucial measure of its success as a public regulatory agency and numerous statutory provisions proscribe the statistical reporting which is designed to measure the systems performance,” the report said. “The discipline report is a long-standing vehicle for transmitting such objective statistical information about the activities and performance: the legislature, the governor, the Supreme Court, and, of course, the public."
Amongst the considerable amount of statistics and analysis presented, the report initially breaks down the numbers of disciplinary actions in 2015.
"In 2015, the state bar received 15,796 new complaints against California lawyers,” the report said. “The office of the chief trial counsel, the state bar's prosecutorial arm, filed disciplinary charges or stipulations to discipline in 558 cases. Formal discipline was imposed in 990 cases, resulting in the disbarment or suspension of 421 lawyers."
The report explained that the backlog was at the lowest level since 2009, there was an increased number of attorneys disciplined, the state bar took a proactive approach, and improved responsiveness to public complaints.
"The backlog of discipline cases was 1,500 at the end of 2015, 25 percent decline from the 1,988 cases and backlog status at the end of 2014,” the report said. “This is the lowest level of backlog cases since 2009. The decrease in the backlog, along with an increase in the number of attorneys suspended or disbarred, and the improvement in the speed at which complaints are handled reflects the bars increased efficacy in carrying out its critical public protection mission."
In 2015, the State Bar reports that it received 15,796 new complaints against California lawyers. While the number of complaints from complaining witnesses decreased by 3 percent from 2014 to 2015, the number of complaints based on State Bar-initiated inquiries increased by 36 percent.
“The increase reflects the State Bar’s commitment to being proactive and identifying and addressing potential problem lawyers. The number of lawyers either suspended or disbarred increased by 6 percent," the report said.
The report makes it very clear that in California, a lawyer is licensed when admitted as a member of the State Bar; only active members of the State Bar may practice law. The State Bar is a constitutional agency established in the judicial branch. Administering the requirements for admission and discipline of California lawyers, the State Bar is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court.
The report explains the State Bar’s disciplinary process, which includes inquiry, investigation, pre-filing, the hearing and review and then it goes to the state Supreme Court.
In preparing the report, the State Bar explained that it focused a significant amount of effort to ensure that measuring and reporting its disciplinary activities reflects the transparency, accountability and excellence to which the State Bar’s new leadership is committed.
“However, we also recognize that there have been shortcomings and data collection and reporting in the past,” the report said. “Work remains to be done and the board of trustees has made this a high priority going forward.”
Nonetheless, the State Bar finds its recent report to be much improved and is an important first step in creating the excellent reporting system that California’s public protection system deserves.