Assemblyman David Chiu, D- San Francisco (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)
SACRAMENTO – The author of the state bar dues bill overwhelmingly defeated by the Assembly on Tuesday said that he has amended his legislation yet again and will seek a new vote as early as Thursday.
Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, did not specify what the latest amendments will do—they were not in print by Wednesday afternoon—but he did say they will not mandate splitting the bar between its regulatory and professional advocacy functions.
“I don’t think we have to do de-unification,” Stone said in an interview Wednesday. “I think it would be a mistake to do something that quickly.”
The amendments generally, Stone said, will address complaints that lawyers should not hold a voting majority on the bar’s board of trustees as they do now. And they will “set in motion a process to look at the next steps in bar governance,” including, he said, possible de-unification.
Stone said he’s “optimistic” the changes will ease critics’ concerns and allow the bill’s passage.
Friday is the deadline for the Assembly to pass bills that originated in that house. If the Assembly does not approve the 2017 bar dues-authorizing legislation by then, Stone could still pursue several parliamentary maneuvers to push the bill through. But each method comes with its own political peril and risks the bar’s ability to collect dues in a timely fashion next year.
Stone first amended AB 2878 last week to eliminate all six elected positions on the bar’s board of trustees—while still maintaining attorney-members’ voting majority—and to prohibit the agency from creating nonprofit organizations. But when the bill was heard on the Assembly floor Tuesday, an overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted against it. Critics from both political parties denounced the amendments for not going far enough.
Stone said Wednesday that he was going to pursue more changes to the bill when it moved to the Senate but Assembly “members said, ‘Not fast enough.’”
Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, was one of those critics who said AB 2878 does not do enough, fast enough.
“When you’ve had decades of neglect and crises at the bar, there are many things we need to consider, including de-unification,” Chiu said after Tuesday’s vote. The assemblyman said he also wants assurances that lawyers will not hold a majority on the bar’s board of trustees.
Chiu, a former prosecutor and civil rights attorney, said he is unconvinced by the arguments of de-unification opponents that splitting the bar’s functions will hurt efforts to increase legal aid and promote ethnic diversity in the state’s legal ranks.
“As a member of the bar for two decades, I have not seen the results of that effort” to increase diversity,” said Chiu, the former president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area.
State bar president David Pasternak said trustees “understand the concerns expressed in the Legislature” and have been addressing a number the issues that they’ve raised, including an alleged indifference to complaints about the unauthorized practice of law. A bar task force has held a number of public hearings on potential changes to the agency’s governance, including de-unification, and could have a report ready for legislative review in 30 to 40 days, he said.
“It’s important that the Legislature gives us time,” Pasternak said.
But Stone and others note that the task force’s report was due in 2014. Legislative critics have shown no inclination toward waiting any longer.
“You heard that” Tuesday, Stone said. “They don’t want to wait another year for change.”
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