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From the President

The State Bar: Past and future

By David Pasternak
President, the State Bar of California

David PasternakIn the tradition of the New Year as a time to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and plan for the year ahead, I have been reviewing my first three months as president of the State Bar of California and looking at a busy 2016 agenda. I hope the following summary of topics will provide a picture of the State Bar’s current and future progress.

Anyone following recent developments at the State Bar should agree that 2015 was a watershed year. My presidency began by welcoming a new management team – described by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye at my installation as president as “the dream team.” Now, after working with Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Parker, Chief Operations Officer Leah Wilson and General Counsel Vanessa Holton for three months, I completely agree. (Not that I ever disagree with the chief justice.) They have brought a laser focus to overdue management issues, as they move a fine organization to world-class quality. Work on a new website, case management system and work force analysis of the State Bar’s discipline system are all now well underway. And there is more to come.

The State Bar has “turned the corner” in other important ways too. On Dec. 21, an arbitrator was at last appointed to resolve the litigation filed by the former executive director, moving the State Bar beyond the plaintiff’s unfortunate tactics of delay. I anticipate prompt and favorable resolution of this matter, so that the organization can at last focus all of its energies on its public protection mission. 

And, on the same day, the Board of Trustees endorsed the executive director’s nomination of Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim, appointing her to a second four-year term. Consistent leadership in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel is essential to ensure that Ms. Kim’s reforms, so energetically and courageously introduced over the last four years, become permanent. I look forward to a State Bar discipline system which meets former Chief Justice Ronald George’s description when the Office of Chief Trial Counsel was established in 1988 – the nation’s best.

With these accomplishments in place, important work remains for 2016.

Achieving adequate legal services funding will continue to be my personal public protection priority. My goal is a bold one: to increase the State's annual Equal Access Fund contribution to $50 million. Only with such additional funding can California equal what other states already provide and begin to support adequate service for California’s least fortunate residents.

The State Bar’s 2016 agenda has other important tasks. Reviewing the best approaches to implementing the State Bar’s Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform will be a focus this spring. The State Auditor’s requirement for workforce planning will require that the bar’s executive team develop ways for adapting the task force admission recommendations to funding realities, while still preserving its essential goals and objectives. Stakeholder participation - including input from prior task force members, law schools and public interest groups - will be key to this work. I expect that the State Bar will ask the Supreme Court to adopt one or more of the new admission requirements this year.

Next, in June 2016, the Board of Trustees will receive final recommendations from the Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Prepared under the impressive leadership of Justice Lee Edmon and the committed 19-member commission, the proposed rules will deserve careful review when they are circulated for public comment before submission to the Supreme Court in 2017.

And finally, as required by statute, in 2016 the State Bar will conduct its triennial review of its governance structures. I chair the six-member Task Force on Governance in the Public Interest and look forward to this important review. At my direction, staff has developed a comprehensive list of the questions identified by the task force, which will be considered in three committee and two public hearing sessions. A topic of special note is consideration of  the continued value of California’s unified bar structure, which combines into a single organization all aspects of public protection – discipline, regulation, admission, service and education. Our review occurs at a particularly interesting time nationally. In the past, I have favored continuing the current structure. Nonetheless, with all members of the Board of Trustees, I have pledged to keep an open mind and to examine carefully all sides of the issues presented. I hope that others will also pay attention to this discussion and participate in the public hearing sessions in San Francisco and Los Angeles, or alternatively submit written comments. Your voices and those of the public will be important to the board’s deliberations.  

As this list should make clear, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees faces a busy year. It is a special pleasure to serve as the president of this remarkably hard working group of volunteers. With them, I wish you a very happy, healthy and successful 2016!