The Office of Chief Trial Counsel, which investigates and prosecutes cases involving attorney disciplinary action, has undergone changes, according to State Bar of California officials, and more changes are on the way.
These initiatives include hiring more personnel, including a full-time administrator and forensic auditor, as well as raising the compensation of the independent attorneys engaged to look into attorney complaints.
Officials from the agency said at a news briefing to emphasize the reforms that they are also implementing new initiatives to proactively uncover possible professional misconduct rather than relying simply on complaints.
According to state bar executive director Leah Wilson, the organization will work to pinpoint the risk indicators for legal misconduct before offering assistance to lawyers who aren’t yet in trouble.
The bar is new to this proactive regulating approach, she claimed. She and other bar officials admitted that, in order to regain the public’s faith in their institution, more substantial adjustments will be required.
The regulation of lawyer behavior is the responsibility of each state. After New York, California has the second-largest legal population, and its disciplinary system has endured years of harsh audits and high-profile scandals, including those involving the ouster of renowned plaintiffs’ attorney Tom Girardi.
Girardi has been the target of multiple complaints over the previous four decades, but the bar permitted him to maintain his license. He is accused by a rival legal practice of diverting settlement money intended for the relatives of victims of the 2018 Lion Air tragedy to support an opulent lifestyle. A third-party review into how the club handled accusations against Girardi, who was prohibited in June, was requested by the bar.
Delays in attorney misconduct investigations, case backlogs, and low rates of punishment have been major concerns cited by state auditors for years. The most recent audit discovered that the bar does not regularly handle conflicts of interest with attorneys who are under investigation and resolves complaints of professional misconduct far too frequently behind closed doors.
Bar executives said on Monday that they are putting the audit’s suggestions for improvement into practice. Additionally, they stated that they wanted to address the idea that the bar is unwilling to bring disciplinary complaints against attorneys at major firms as well as racial inequities in attorney punishment.
“While we’ve accomplished a lot, let me be clear. Ruben Duran, chair of the bar’s board of trustees, said on Monday that there was still work to be done in order to improve the disciplinary process.