Overview of State Bar Court Procedure
By James Ham and Ellen Pansky
In many states, attorney discipline is adjudicated by volunteer boards or by courts or State Bar associations that appoint referees or hearing panels to make recommendations in individual cases. California, in contrast, has a permanent prosecutor’s office â the Office of Chief Trial Counsel ("OCTC") â and a full-time professional State Bar Court composed of five Hearing Department trial judges (three in Los Angeles and two in San Francisco), two appointed by the California Legislature (one by the Speaker of the Assembly and the other by Senate Rules Committee President Pro Tem), one by the Governor, and two by the Supreme Court. A three-judge appellate court (appointed by the Supreme Court) exists, called the Review Department. Together these courts hear cases and make discipline recommendations to the Supreme Court. (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 6079.1, 6086.65.) Except in more minor cases of reproval, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of formal attorney discipline and imposes suspension from practice or disbarment. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6078.) Constitutionally, the California State Bar is the administrative arm of the Supreme Court and a judicial branch agency. This article explores the procedures and anatomy of a State Bar Court proceeding against an attorney (called the Respondent).
Pre-Filing Investigation and Initiation of a Notice of Disciplinary Charges