Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, the former law school dean who has led California’s state bar during two years of enormous change and turmoil, announced late Wednesday that she will resign from her post as executive director in September.
In a letter to bar president James Fox, Parker said she plans to return to the East Coast in 2018 to spend more time with family.
“I believe my commitment to bringing transformative change to The State Bar has been met and new leadership is available to continue the reforms well underway,” Parker wrote.
Parker will be succeeded by the bar’s chief operating officer, Leah Wilson, who was designated as Parker’s heir apparent when she was hired almost simultaneously in 2015.
In a memo sent to bar staff Wednesday, Fox and president-elect Michael Colantuono called Wilson “the right leader … to ensure that the agency will continue the progress it has made in advancing its mission to protect the public.”
Parker was hired in July 2015 to lead an agency in disarray. The board of trustees had fired former executive director Joe Dunn over allegations of financial mismanagement and dishonesty. The general counsel, a Dunn ally, had been terminated, too. A state audit released just weeks before Parker’s arrival accused the bar of cutting lenient disciplinary deals with troubled lawyers in a frantic effort to cut a chronic backlog of public complaints.
Parker’s tenure was also marked by intense scrutiny from the legislature, which had grown weary of frequent headlines about agency leaders’ lavish spending and priorities that seemed more focused on protecting the bar than protecting the public. Angry lawmakers, some comparing the bar to the Titanic, did not pass an annual dues authorization legislation in 2016, forcing the Supreme Court to approve an emergency fee in order to keep the organization running this year.
Parker attributed such criticisms to the bar’s “legacy” problems. Over the last two years, bar leaders have hired a new general counsel and chief trial counsel. Pushed by pending legislation, they’ve begun divorcing the bar’s main regulatory operations from 16 specialty practice sections. They’ve also instituted new spending oversight, ramped up scrutiny of the unauthorized practice of law in California and launched a review of the bar exam amid complaints about plummeting passage rates.
“Now these impressive accomplishments, personal considerations, and my confidence in the succession plan the Board [of Trustees] created by simultaneously hiring both me and Leah Wilson, convince me that it is time to step down as Executive Director,” Parker wrote.
Parker served as dean of the Sacramento-based McGeorge School of Law for a decade ending in 2012. Prior to her arrival at McGeorge, she was general counsel to the 26-campus University of Wisconsin system. She also served 11 years in various top-level legal positions in the federal government, including principal deputy legal adviser at the U.S. Department of State and general counsel for the CIA.
Parker’s last day will be Sept. 7.
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