CPIL's Robert C. Fellmeth Featured in Daily Journal Article Regarding His Recommendations to Improve State Bar

CPIL's Robert C. Fellmeth Featured in Daily Journal Article Regarding His Recommendations to Improve State Bar

Los Angeles (July 13, 2015) – A recent article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal highlighted a letter sent from University of San Diego (USD) School of Law's Professor Robert C. Fellmeth to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which provided 14 recommendations for improving the State Bar. Among Fellmeth's suggestions: Practicing lawyers should be taken off the State Bar governing board, the attorney general should handle lawyer discipline, and bar dues should go up at least $50 to pay for improved discipline enforcement.

In a 12-page letter to the Assembly committee, Fellmeth, current director of the Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) at USD, says the bar has "a pattern of secrecy, nontransparency, deliberate evasion and ignorance of clearly applicable laws, and dereliction of regulatory duties," and repeats complaints made by the State Auditor in its review last month of some bar operations, including criticizing how the bar reports its backlog of discipline cases and how it spends its money.

He chides the bar for issuing a response to the state audit that is "part of its carefully choreographed defense to several pending wrongful termination lawsuits and defamation claims," referring primarily to litigation by fired Executive Director Joseph L. Dunn. He urges the Legislature to "look beyond" that litigation and response.

The state Senate has already approved this year's legislation that would allow the bar to collect member dues of $390 for most lawyers. The bill, SB 387 by Sen. Hannah-­Beth Jackson, D-­Santa Barbara, has drawn no opposition so far except from Fellmeth.

However, some observers have wondered whether the combination of the Dunn controversy and the highly critical audit might cause problems for the bill.

Fellmeth thinks it should. "The Bar has become 'backlog'-­obsessed," he wrote, and yet its discipline prosecution unit, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, "is radically underfunded."

The amount the bar spends on discipline has not at all kept pace with growth in the number of lawyers and with inflation since the current system of professional prosecutors and independent bar court was established in 1991. As a result, annual lawyer dues should increase by $50 exclusively for the discipline system, he told the committee.

Fellmeth has a unique perspective on the issue. From 1987 to 1992, he was the special "discipline monitor," appointed by the attorney general, who oversaw creation of the current system.

Finally, Fellmeth said the bar must be actively supervised by the state Supreme Court or by a board or independent body not controlled by practicing lawyers. The reason is a U.S. Supreme Court decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC that holds that state regulatory bodies controlled by "active market participants" - such as practicing lawyers -­ are not immune from federal antitrust laws. 

If the bar continues to make "anticompetitive decisions" about who can practice law -­ such as discipline and admissions - members of the bar's Board of Trustees could be sued for treble damages or even prosecuted criminally, according Fellmeth, who once was an antitrust prosecutor.

Read the full article here

About Professor Fellmeth

Robert Fellmeth is the Price Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law, where he teaches and writes in the areas of children's rights, regulation, antitrust, and consumer law. Professor Fellmeth is also the executive director of both USD’s Center for Public Interest Law and Children's Advocacy Institute.

About the University of San Diego School of Law

Celebrating 60 years of alumni success, the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law is recognized for the excellence of its faculty, depth of its curriculum, and strength of its clinical programs. Each year, USD educates approximately 900 Juris Doctor and graduate law students from throughout the United States and around the world. The law school is best known for its offerings in the areas of business and corporate law, constitutional law, intellectual property, international and comparative law, public interest and taxation.

USD School of Law is one of the 81 law schools elected to the Order of the Coif, a national honor society for law school graduates. The law school’s faculty is a strong group of outstanding scholars and teachers with national and international reputations and currently ranks 23rd worldwide in all-time faculty downloads on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN). The school is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Founded in 1954, the law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, nonprofit, independent, Roman Catholic university chartered in 1949.

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