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Getting bad lawyers out of the legal profession isn’t cheap. Just ask State Bar of California officials who have calculated that policing their own puts the agency in a financial hole to the tune of about $600,000 a year. But that might be changing soon as agency leaders push aggressive new measures that could force errant attorneys to pay a substantial portion of the costs of their own prosecution in State Bar Court. Legislation went into effect this year that lets the state bar go to court to seek civil judgments for certain costs assessed against disciplined lawyers. And bar leaders are now reviewing a proposal that would force attorneys to pay several other costs, including prosecutors’ hourly fees. “The goal isn’t to collect more money,” said Roderick McLeod, one of the bar governors backing the idea, “but rather to force these lawyers to shoulder more of these costs. We are trying to get attorneys that are causing the problems to share the burden.” Even so, the idea remains controversial-even within the state bar itself. Some feel that the move would come across as an attack on solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers, while others believe it’s an overly harsh punishment and very likely uncollectible. “I don’t think it’s going to increase our recovery,” said Scott Drexel, State Bar Court administrative officer and chief counsel. “Our statistics show that the people that are most likely to pay the discipline costs are people who want to return to practice. So people who resign or are disbarred are very unlikely to pay costs.” Floundering lawyers might choose not to return to the law rather than to make payments beyond their means, some state bar staff agree. “All of the indications are that the lesser the amount, the more likely you will collect it,” said the state bar’s chief trial counsel, Mike Nisperos Jr., who is in favor of recouping some costs. “And the higher the amount, the less likely you are going to collect it.” As it now stands, California law lets the bar recoup from lawyers certain costs, such as transcript and deposition expenses, investigation and hearing costs and some witness fees. Some of the costs are added to the disciplined lawyers’ membership dues for the next year. Disbarred or resigned attorneys must pay those costs as a condition of reinstatement.

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