Solo & Small Firm
State Bar Changes Interpretation of Statute, Signaling New Era of Transparency and Accountability
The State Bar of California today informed the California Supreme Court that it is changing its interpretation of a statute to allow for greater transparency with respect to closed disciplinary complaints. Pursuant to this revised interpretation, the State Bar of California further informed the Court that it intends to disclose statutorily authorized information about closed complaints against disbarred attorney Thomas Girardi.
In a Supplemental Brief filed with the Court, the State Bar announced that it has changed its position with respect to Business and Professions Code section 6086(1)(b)(2). This statute allows the Chair or Chief Trial Counsel to waive the confidentiality of otherwise confidential disciplinary records of attorneys, when warranted by the need to inform and protect the public. The State Bar had previously interpreted the statute as only permitting disclosure of pending and active cases. It is now interpreting the statute as permitting the disclosure of information regarding closed complaints, as well.
“Given Mr. Girardi’s disbarment and the growing publicly available information about his conduct, the Chair and Chief Trial Counsel have now determined, in the exercise of our discretion, that release of the information is warranted for the protection of the public,” said Ruben Duran, Chair of the State Bar Board of Trustees.
In its Supplemental Brief, the State Bar also informed the Supreme Court that it intends to disclose information specifically authorized under the law (Section 6086.1(b)(2)) relating to its closed investigations into disbarred attorney Thomas Girardi. The statute only allows the disclosure of “the fact of an investigation or proceeding, clarifying the procedural aspects and the current status, and defending the right of the licensee to a fair hearing.” This disclosure will occur approximately 30 days after today’s filing, unless the Court directs us otherwise.
The filing of the Supplemental Brief is the latest example of the State Bar’s ongoing commitment to transparency, as well as fulfilling its public protection mission.
In January 2022, the State Bar announced an investigation by Halpern May Gelberg LLP focused on whether the State Bar’s handling of past discipline complaints against Girardi was affected by his connections to or influence at the State Bar. Related to that investigation, the State Bar announced last week that it recently submitted to the Los Angeles County Superior Court a report of contempt and petition to enforce subpoenas with two confidential witnesses connected with the Halpern May Gelberg LLP investigation, which is ongoing.
In addition, the Board of Trustees released a five-year plan earlier this year. Its No. 1 goal is to protect the public by strengthening the attorney disciplinary system, adopting new standards and operational practices in processing cases, and reducing the backlog of unresolved disciplinary actions.
In 2021, the Board of Trustees brought back Leah Wilson to serve as Executive Director, a position she held from 2017–2019. And in June 2022, George S. Cardona, formerly a federal prosecutor, was confirmed by the Senate as Chief Trial Counsel, the first such confirmation in 10 years.
See a copy of the Supplemental Brief the State Bar filed with the California Supreme Court.