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California Bar dues could be going up, with the heftiest increase being borne by lawyers who don’t practice law. On Saturday, State Bar President John Van de Kamp announced that the organization is seeking to increase Bar dues by $5 per year for the state’s 150,000 active members and a whopping $85 for more than 34,000 inactive attorneys. Also on Saturday, Bar leaders retreated, for the time being, from an earlier proposal that would have forced bad lawyers to pay a substantial portion of the costs of their own disciplinary proceedings, including Bar prosecutors’ fees. The idea had come under heavy attack from both inside and outside the Bar. The proposed fee increase means active dues, which haven’t risen since 1999, will go from $390 to $395 a year, with the extra money going into the Bar’s Client Security Fund, which reimburses people who had money stolen by their attorneys for financial losses of up to $50,000. Inactive fees, which haven’t climbed in 20 years, will soar by 170 percent, from $50 to $135. The State Bar estimates both increases to generate about $3 million in extra general fund revenue for 2006. (Some inactive members, including those over age 70, pay no annual fees.) Anthony Williams, the State Bar’s Sacramento, Calif.-based director of governmental affairs, said Saturday he is “cautiously optimistic” the fee bill — AB 1529 sponsored by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento — will meet little opposition. Van de Kamp, an experienced politician from his days as state attorney general from 1983-91, said he had already approached several Republican and Democratic legislators and gotten “a mixed reaction.” But he and other Bar leaders said the increases are absolutely necessary if the organization is to stay financially afloat. In a March 1 letter to Jones, who chairs the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Williams estimated that without the proposed fee increases the Bar’s operating deficit would reach about $2.7 million by the end of 2006. He said it could expand to $10.7 million by 2008 if forced to exhaust the $5.4 million now in the organization’s public protection reserve fund. “Once nearly the highest in the nation,” Williams wrote, “California’s Bar dues are currently 12th and falling — despite the fact that they support the only fully professional, statutorily mandated attorney discipline system in the nation.” Van de Kamp noted that inactive members’ dues have been the lowest in the country for years, with inactive members enjoying all Bar benefits except the right to practice law. “What we’re really doing is trying to make the system equitable,” he said. AB 1529 would also modify the current scaling provisions to allow a flat 25 percent reduction in fees for Bar members who make less than $40,000 annually from any source. Currently, Bar members in that income bracket are permitted a reduction only if they practice law; those making less than $30,000 can cut their dues in half. In addition, the State Bar’s bill proposes that the organization not be required to seek new funding each year, but rather go to the Legislature with a fee bill only when there is a proposal to change dues. That could be difficult because legislators have kept a close eye on the State Bar’s finances ever since 1997, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson nearly shut the group down by vetoing a $458 fee bill. The State Bar has pointed out, however, that a special master appointed by the state Supreme Court following the crisis concluded that the Bar’s yearly bid for funds — and threat of closure if rejected — “fosters severe and detrimental financial instability.” Williams, in his March 1 letter to Jones, hastened to reassure the lawmaker that the Bar would remain accountable to the Legislature and the governor since “the Bar would be held to its existing resource level until a new bill is enacted to change the level of funding based on justified resource needs.” Assemblyman Jones couldn’t be reached Monday, but his bill is expected to be heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee later this month. RETREAT ON DISCIPLINE PLAN Efforts to recoup the costs of attorneys’ disciplinary proceedings slowed considerably on Saturday when the Bar’s Board of Governors put on hold a proposal to collect prosecutors’ fees as part of discipline costs. The board also postponed any action on a proposal to force lawyers to pay the procedural costs for being placed on involuntary inactive status. Instead, the governors opted only to authorize a speedier cost-collection procedure, require out-of-state attorneys seeking reinstatement to come to California for their depositions and increase the filing fee for reinstatement proceedings from $900 to $1,600. The proposals, which arose last summer as a way of recouping the Bar’s roughly $600,000 in annual discipline costs, were vigorously opposed by lawyers who represent attorneys in such cases. They claimed the measures would be overly punitive and allow overzealous prosecutors to obtain unfair settlements. Even Scott Drexel, administrative officer and chief counsel of the State Bar Court, expressed reservations. Drexel, who was named chief trial counsel on Monday, argued that imposing costs could increase litigation in State Bar Court and would likely trigger a loss in revenue as struggling attorneys left the profession rather than pay up. “Most of these attorneys have done nothing else [career-wise],” Drexel said during a Friday committee meeting. “Most of them are barely able to scratch out a living while waiting to be reinstated.” Some governors didn’t care. “We didn’t put these people there. They put themselves there,” said Sheldon Sloan, of counsel at Los Angeles’ Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith. “I have a hard time having any pity.” A chief proponent of the plan, Jones Day partner Roderick McLeod, was out of the country on business and did not attend the Bar gathering. In the end, the State Bar’s prosecutorial wing got the two most ambitious proposals tabled by pointing out that it could not bill for attorney time since it can’t currently track the hours spent on each case. “We’re not set up to do that,” Acting Chief Trial Counsel Russell Weiner said. “We don’t have that kind of billing system.” The proposals will come back up at the board’s July meeting. Also on Saturday, three Bar governors announced their intentions to seek the State Bar presidency for 2005-06. They are McLeod, of Jones Day’s San Francisco office; James Heiting, a partner in Riverside, Calif.’s Heiting & Irwin; and Joel Miliband, a partner in Irvine, Calif.’s Rus, Miliband & Smith.

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