October 28, 2022
The State Bar of California today submitted to the Legislative Analyst’s Office and legislative leaders a report proposing new discipline case processing standards. The report, required by Senate Bill 211 (last year’s fee bill) proposes shorter timelines than current averages, while differentiating timelines by case complexity and types of cases, prioritizing those that pose a greater risk to the public.
“Consistent with the proposed standards, we are looking at a number of ways to shorten the average time it takes to investigate and charge cases while focusing our resources on cases that pose the greatest risk of harm to the public,” said Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona. “We share with our partners in the Legislature the goal of improved discipline and public protection, and we look forward to their input and working with them to take concrete steps to deliver on this proposal.”
The State Bar Board of Trustees approved the proposal at a special meeting on October 24, 2022. In alignment with SB 211’s requirements and the State Bar’s strategic plan, the standards development process included a concerted effort to solicit views of the public, through surveys and a social media campaign to gather public comments, so that the resulting standards are responsive to public expectations for the resolution of complaints.
On average, the State Bar handles about 15,000 attorney misconduct cases each year. Under current law, the State Bar is expected to complete its investigation and either charge or close a case within 180 days of receiving a complaint for standard cases and 365 days for complicated (complex) cases. Each year, the State Bar has a significant backlog of cases that have not been charged or closed within these time frames and has been criticized for taking too long to investigate and prosecute cases.
Last year, SB 211 directed the State Bar to develop and propose new case processing standards that reflect the goal of resolving attorney discipline cases in a timely, effective, and efficient manner, while having small backlogs of attorney discipline cases and best protecting the public. To develop the standards, the State Bar:
- Reviewed prior reports from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO 2019 Report) and California State Auditor (CSA 2022 Report, CSA 2021 Report, CSA 2019 Report) relating to State Bar disciplinary case processing.
- Compared case processing standards in six other states, based on those states’ annual reports and data reported to the American Bar Association (ABA 2019 Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems, ABA 2018 Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems).
- Consulted with California and national experts on attorney discipline.
- Reviewed case processing times reported by the California Department of Consumer Affairs for licensing agencies under its jurisdiction.
The report addresses each component of the case processing standards development effort outlined in SB 211. This work resulted in targeted average case processing times significantly shorter than the status quo and backlog metrics that reflect substantial reductions in time to close or file a small percentage of the most time-consuming cases.
The report notes that achieving the new standards would require staffing increases in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC). Once the Legislature has indicated its views on the proposed standards, the State Bar plans to conduct a comprehensive staffing needs analysis to quantify that need. The staffing needs analysis will also account for planned improvements in OCTC processes and procedures.