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
"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, 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
"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
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
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.