SACRAMENTO – The California Assembly voted on new amendments on Aug. 19 related to a heavily disputed State Bar of California fee bill, which authorizes the agency to collect annual licensing fees from attorneys.


The State Bar said the bill still needs to be approved on the Assembly floor, and then will go back to the California Senate.


“We continue to be hopeful that the legislature will be able to pass a fee bill this year,” Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, executive director of the State Bar of California, told the Northern California Record. “The State Bar is closely monitoring discussions among leaders of both legislative houses and the judiciary.”


Despite the issues with the passage of the fee bill, Parker acknowledged the support of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, but she said the State Bar is taking action to protect the fee request.


“I’m grateful for the strong leadership of the chief justice in her support of the state bar on these issues,” Parker said. “Even so, in order to be ready for all scenarios, the State Bar is preparing a submission to the California Supreme Court to authorize the State Bar to assess fees, in the event that is necessary, though we hope it will not be.”


Last month, Assemblyman Mark Stone, the sponsor of the dues legislation in the Assembly, pulled the bill from consideration after the Senate suggested amendments, including changes that would let attorneys maintain a voting majority on the State Bar’s board and would have allowed a California Supreme Court appointee to suggest State Bar reforms.


In contrast, the Assembly’s version of the bill called for a review of possible reforms by a committee comprised of members selected by the chief justice, the governor and other Assembly and Senate leaders.


If the state legislature does not pass a law on the state bar fees in this year’s sessions, the matter could be turned over to the California Supreme Court. As Parker mentioned, the State Bar is already preparing a fee assessment proposal that would be submitted to the high court if the current legislation remains stalled or fails.


Parker said the leadership of the State Bar agrees that systemic changes are needed.


“Last month, the State Bar released its Governance in the Public Interest Task Force, which recommended a number of reforms that align with changes sought by the legislature,” Parker said. “State Bar President David Pasternak plans to bring those recommended reforms to the board of trustees for consideration.”


In the past, Cantil-Sakauye indicated that she would be willing to support reforms, although she has not been specific on which ones she would like to see.


The State Bar said “it is universally acknowledged that significant changes are needed at the State Bar of California.”


The State Bar said in an Aug. 2 release that a majority report urges that many important and ongoing reforms required by statute should be completed before assessing whether a structural overhaul is necessary. Meanwhile, a minority report concludes that the bar’s challenges have existed for decades and can only be addressed through de-unification.


Among the challenges addressed by the task force were a conflicting hybrid governance structure and the impact of restricted funding sources.


“Despite the challenges facing the state bar, the agency is in the best hands possible to achieve important reforms,” Pasternak said in the release.

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