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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Panel reopens review of State Bar structure

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

Four years after changing the composition and name of its governing body, the State Bar is once again examining itself to ensure that its structure and functions serve the agency’s primary goal of public protection.

At a meeting last month, the Governance in the Public Interest Task Force developed a plan to revisit the work of a similar task force in 2011. Its goal is to provide a report to the Board of Trustees by mid-2016.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with the Task Force in looking deeply at the State Bar of California to ensure that it meets the highest standards of lawyer regulatory agencies in the nation and best fulfills its mission of public protection,” State Bar President David Pasternak said.

Topics to be discussed include the selection and composition of the board, the unified bar structure and the impact of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, 574 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2201 (2015).

Executive Director Elizabeth Parker said she supports the effort not only because it’s a statutory mandate but also because regular self-assessment is needed in any organization. 

“Only in this way can we be sure that we are true to our commitment to be the best State Bar in the nation,” she said.

The group will build on the work done by the 2011 Governance in the Public Interest Task Force. Resulting legislation reduced the size of the board from 23 to 19 members and changed the name from Board of Governors to Board of Trustees. The new composition added five attorney members appointed by the Supreme Court and reduced the number of elected attorney members. The law also provides that “protection of the public shall be the highest priority for the State Bar of California and the board of trustees in exercising their licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions.”

The task force will consider further changes in the makeup and selection of trustees and board officers.

The task force will also study the unified bar structure – in place in more than 30 states including California – which combines the dual missions of public protection and advancing the administration of justice. Critics nationwide have questioned whether those roles should be split to avoid real or perceived conflicts in those roles.

As a backdrop to the discussion, the task force will consider the impact of the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners case, which held that a dental board of majority dentists violated antitrust laws by sending cease-and-desist letters to non-dentist teeth-whitening businesses. The ruling holds that actions licensing boards such as the State Bar, which are made up of a majority of “active market participants,” must be actively supervised by a governmental body to avoid antitrust implications. The State Bar is part of the judicial branch.

California is not the only state grappling with these issues, Parker said. "This is really the time to lean back and think deeply about where we are. We want to make sure we make the right choices."

The task force will also build on the work of the 1995 Commission on the Future of the Legal Profession.

Pasternak serves as chair of the task force, which includes public members Dennis Mangers and Gwen Moore and attorney members Jason Lee, Joanna Mendoza and Danette Meyers.

The next task force meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25. For more information, subscribe to the board's e-mailing list.