State Bar Reform Act Signed into Law – Takes on Increased Significance

By Robert J. Hansen

SACRAMENTO, CA – California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Tuesday Senate Bill 40, which will authorize the State Bar of California (State Bar) to collect yearly license fees for 2024 in the same amount as last year, and make other more noticeable changes to the State Bar Act.

Author of the bill, Sen. Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana), released a statement noting the normally non-controversial bill, the annual State Bar license fees measure, has taken on increased significance in recent years in the wake of the attorney Thomas Girardi scandal and the State Bar’s mishandling of the controversy.

“Thank you, Tom Girardi, for providing the revelation as to how much reform is, in fact, required to ensure we are protecting consumers,” said Umberg, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in closing remarks on the Senate Floor last month.

Girardi was disbarred last year following an indictment for wire fraud and stealing millions from his clients. Girardi was found to be bribing members of the State Bar, allowing him to steal from clients for at least a decade.

The State Bar is facing a class action lawsuit against several clients who claim Girardi stole from them and that the Bar is responsible for allowing it.

The State Bar has been the focus of an investigation by The Vanguard, revealing the agency still allows predatory attorneys like Kenneth Catanzarite to go undisciplined.

This year, State Bar leaders requested a substantial fee increase to cover employee salary raises and to address a structural budget deficit.

“Frankly, with the amount of controversy concerning the State Bar, my colleagues and I believed it would be premature to tax its members to provide the agency with additional funds,” Umberg said in the statement.

The lawmaker added, “The Legislature has been clear in its direction to the State Bar to reform its disciplinary process and increase oversight and transparency. While there has been progress, there is still a way(s) to go to provide the public and lawyers with confidence in a system that is effective and fair.”

SB 40 also will, among other things, allow the State Bar to use building proceeds from the sale of its San Francisco office to pay for operating expenses, prohibit private reproval letters moving forward, require the State Senate to confirm the Bar’s next Executive Director and General Counsel, implement statutory language to complement the California Supreme Court’s mandatory reporting rule adopted earlier this year, add a duty to report attorneys engaged in treason or sedition; and implement a diversion/mentorship program for low-level and correctable attorney violations.

“SB 40 substantially increases the chance that bad actors in the legal field, including those who may be engaged in conspiracy against the government, will be caught and disciplined,” Sen. Umberg added.

“I want to thank Governor Newsom and my colleagues for their support of this measure this year. I think I speak for all of us when I say that every action we take is with the goal of protecting Californians—and that absolutely includes those engaged in the legal system,” Umberg said.

SB 40 will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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