Lawmakers Want Work Stopped Now on State Bar’s ‘Regulatory Sandbox,’ Paraprofessional Programs

Lets get real—the California Bar Association is a political arm of the Democrat Party—has been for years.

It has forced law schools into being an arm of the monopoly created by the Bar.  Should an individual be licensed by the State to be an attorney because a “private” organization says so?  In other words, the Bar limits those allowed to practice, hence making it easier for the bad attorneys to get business.  Either have the State control the licensing, or better yet, end the licensing and allow the public decide the good attorneys from the bad.

Lawmakers Want Work Stopped Now on State Bar’s ‘Regulatory Sandbox,’ Paraprofessional Programs

Bar leaders “are wrong-headed in their priorities and in my view they’re misusing funds,” said state Sen. Tom Umberg, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Cheryl Miller , Law.com,  8/12/22    https://www.law.com/therecorder/2022/08/12/lawmakers-want-work-stopped-now-on-state-bars-regulatory-sandbox-paraprofessional-programs/?slreturn=20220718062311


What You Need to Know

  • Legislative amendments would stop state bar work on a ‘regulatory sandbox’ indefinitely.
  • Amendments would also put a two-year freeze on plans for a paraprofessional program.
  • The bill would also restrict proceeds from any sale of the state bar’s San Francisco office.

State lawmakers, frustrated by what they say are the state bar’s “wrong-headed” priorities, amended legislation late Thursday to immediately shut down work on the agency’s paraprofessional and regulatory sandbox proposals.

Changes to AB 2958, the state bar’s annual licensing fee bill, add an urgency clause that would enact its provisions as soon as the governor signs the legislation. The previous version of the bill would have taken effect on Jan. 1.

The amendments also demand the bar give a detailed accounting by Jan. 15 for how it has spent money on the two controversial programs, including funding for “salaries, travel, food and beverage, facility rental, and lobbying.” The rewritten bill would also stop the bar from spending any proceeds from a potential sale of its San Francisco building, save for a small amount that could be directed to improving the agency’s discipline system.

The sweeping changes follow what sources say was a recent heated conversation between bar leaders and the two chairs of the legislative judiciary committees, Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, and Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana.

The two lawmakers have been adamant that the bar needs to focus on beefing up its lawyer discipline system instead of pursuing programs that will give nonlawyers a greater role in the legal profession. But the bar has pushed ahead with work on the two proposals. At a meeting last week of the group considering a regulatory sandbox, a committee member said the bar should not be deterred by “a bunch of bullies” who want to stop the work.

Bar leaders “are wrong-headed in their priorities and in my view they’re misusing funds,” Umberg said in a recent interview.

An interview request sent to Ruben Duran, the chair of the state bar’s board of trustees, was not immediately acknowledged Friday morning. Both Duran and state bar Executive Director Leah Wilson have said publicly that the bar can work simultaneously on improving its disciplinary system and instituting programs they say will provide legal services to Californians who cannot afford an attorney.

The amendments also follow weeks of commentaries appearing in various media outlets calling on Stone and Umberg to drop their opposition to the paraprofessional and regulatory sandbox proposals. Umberg said bar leaders assured lawmakers that there was no coordinated public relations campaign promoting the programs. But then this week, the bar sent an email to California-licensed attorneys highlighting the opinion pieces and warning that the licensing fee bill “as currently written would essentially prohibit even studying these ideas.”

“In their advocacy and in their pursuit of these other objectives, bar leaders are not focused on their core responsibilities,” Umberg said.

Faced with criticism, bar executives earlier this year nixed a $35,000 contract with former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, now mayor of Sacramento, to help get legislative approval of the paraprofessional and regulatory sandbox proposals.

The bar contracted with Sacramento lobbyist Jennifer Wada. It has also paid its top executives tens of thousands of dollars for “payments to influence legislative or administrative action,” according to lobbying documents filed with the state. The bar’s most recent quarterly filing shows that the bar paid part of the salaries of Wilson, chief of programs Donna Hershkowitz and two other top administrators with funds that attorneys voluntarily contribute annually to the agency’s “legislative activities” account.

Wada does not have the “familiarity with or access to the types of information that are frequently sought from the legislature or the executive branch,” according to a statement provided Friday by the bar’s communications office.

“Without dedicated legislative relations functions, there is no conduit for relationships or conversations between any state agency and the legislature,” the statement continued. “For us, these conversations center primarily around the annual licensing fee bill, but also relate to legislation we are asked to weigh in on.”

As currently written, the state bar’s annual licensing fee bill will require attorneys to actively “opt in” to contributing to the bar’s legislative work. Now, California bar members must “opt out” of making those payments on their annual licensing bill.

Amendments made to the bill Thursday would stop work on the paraprofessional program until at least Jan. 1, 2025. Lawmakers have said they’re open to considering such a program, which would allow trained nonlawyers to offer limited legal services in select underserved areas of the state, so long as the bar focuses in the short term on the lawyer-disciplinary system.

The bill would block work on the regulatory sandbox proposal indefinitely. The amended legislation must pass the full Senate and the Assembly before the Legislature adjourns on Aug. 31.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. This is a complex issue. First, don’t make it seem like California is some bizarre outlier. Every state has a bar association that regulates attorneys, whatever the nuanced differences between them. I have a libertarian streak in me, but as an appellate attorney cleaning up messes I know how even now attorneys are able to steal “small” amounts of money from clients (i.e. under $10k) and get no relief–it’ll get even worse with the huge increase in people who can fleece clients and without an increase in overseers (which we don’t want either). Perhaps you’re right, but it’s not black and white.

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