By Amy Yarbrough
Daily Journal Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO – The State Bar’s Board of Governors resoundingly approved on Friday two much-discussed measures that would narrow options for attorneys facing discipline.
The board had previously voted on both proposals – one that would allow for permanent disbarment in egregious cases and the other affecting attorneys who wish to resign with charges pending against them.
But the state Supreme Court, which has final approval of such rule changes, referred both matters back to the State Bar, suggesting changes to make them less expansive.
The permanent disbarment proposal, as it was approved this week, states that attorneys can only be forever banned from the practice of law in cases where they have already twice been disbarred. Should the Supreme Court ultimately approve the other proposal, it would require attorneys who wish to resign with charges pending against them to reach an agreement with the Office of Chief Trial Counsel as to the facts of their discipline case.
On Thursday, the Board of Governors Committee on Regulations, Admissions and Discipline Oversight voted to recommend the full board adopt both of the recommendations.
Gov. Michael Marcus said that he had concerns about the previous version of the permanent disbarment proposal and was glad that the changes were made to limit the number of scenarios where permanent disbarment applied.
“I don’t want to be the lone person crying in the woods,” Marcus said. “My objections were to the many grounds for permanent disbarment. My concerns were addressed by the Supreme Court, and I appreciate that.”
In other actions Friday, the Board of Governors voted unanimously to turn down its employees union’s offer for a labor contract for 2009, saying the concessions proposed by the union were not great enough given the weak economy.
Prior to the board’s vote, Gov. James Aguirre acknowledged that he’s always considered himself supportive of unions but noted, “we are very aware of the shifting landscape.”
Among other things, the union has proposed lowering yearly merit raises for employees to 2.5 percent. The board had budgeted 5 percent merit increases when it passed its 2009 budget in August, when the economic situation was not quite as dire.
Cutting the merit raises was projected to save the State Bar $1.7 million.
Robert Hawley, the State Bar’s deputy executive director, said in remarks outside the meeting that the Bar has made it clear to the union the proposal would be a stretch even with the proposed concessions.
During a presentation at its January planning meeting, the Board of Governors learned that, barring significant spending cuts or a membership dues increase, the agency will have exhausted its reserves by 2011 and be $6 million in the hole.
“Virtually everyone sitting around the table in their day job are sweating their own budgets,” Hawley said of the members of the Board of Governors.
“We’re trying to balance the budget and value employees and avoid layoffs.”
Also on Friday, the board revisited the State Bar’s choice of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego as the venue for its annual meeting in September.
The State Bar has faced intense pressure to boycott the hotel ever since news surfaced that the hotel’s owner had donated $125,000 to Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage passed by voters in November.
In January, the board decided to honor the contract it signed with the hotel in 2004, rather than risk a $500,000 cancellation fee. In making the decision, the board noted the State Bar is prohibited from taking political stances.
San Diego attorney Alex Sachs asked the board Friday to change its mind, and having failed that, said he was sure many attorneys would boycott the meeting.
“I know there will be picketing,” he said.