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Disbarred and other miscreant lawyers in California should expect to get some large bills from the state Bar Association for the cost of convicting them of misconduct as a result of a test case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A 2003 legislative change allows the California State Bar to seek immediate money judgments against disbarred or suspended lawyers for the costs of state bar prosecution. The law survived a constitutional attack on due process and ex post facto grounds in Gadda v. State Bar of California, 06-15344. Prior to 2003, the California bar assessed lawyers for the cost of their disbarment but had no trigger to collect until the attorney sought reinstatement to practice. “The problem we discovered was that the worst offenders get disbarred and don’t come back,” said Robert Hawley, deputy executive director for the California State Bar in San Francisco. “They were costing us the most in terms of prosecution and social costs to the community. They just walk away from the debt,” he said. The law also allows the Bar to assess lawyers for funds stolen from clients’ trust accounts creating the potential of some sizeable bills, according to Hawley. But just the trial costs alone will be significant, in the tens of thousands of dollars, he said. There were 66 lawyers disbarred and 250 suspended in 2006 and each would have been assessed for the costs of a trial under a procedure that allows them to challenge bills, Hawley said. Miguel Gadda, a San Francisco immigration lawyer, who began practice in 1975 and was first suspended in 1990 for instances of client neglect, was disbarred in 2002 for what the appeals court called “myriad acts of misconduct from 1994 to 1999.” In addition to the state bar, the federal court for the Northern District of California and the immigration court have also disbarred him. In Feb. 2003 the unchallenged bill for state disbarment costs of $21,845 became final. But it was not until June 2005 that the Bar, under the new law, sought repayment and threatened to seek a judgment against him for the money. Gadda sued claiming the 2003 amendment to section 6080.10 of the California Business and Professions Code was being applied retroactively to him in violation of constitutional due process and ex post facto protections. The law became effective Jan. 1, 2004. The appeals court said the law was applied to Gadda retroactively, but that was clearly the intent of the Legislature and did not violate the Constitution. Gadda, who represented himself on appeal, could not be reached for comment. “The availability of a new mechanism to collect costs already owed cannot be construed as remotely punitive so as to negate California’s civil intentions,” wrote Judge Robert Beezer for the panel. Hawley did not know how many judgments the Bar is currently seeking under the new law but added, “We have been doing it and we will be doing it more.” The Legislature, which funds the state bar, and the state auditor have pressed the association to be more aggressive in trying to recover these costs. “The question is how much money it is going to generate. A deadbeat is still a deadbeat,” Beezer said. “Sometimes at the end of the rainbow the pot of gold is empty,” said Hawley.

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