Gov. Brown Signs Senate Bill 387: CPIL Succeeds In Imposing Transparency Requirements on State Bar of California

Gov. Brown Signs Senate Bill 387: CPIL Succeeds In Imposing Transparency Requirements on State Bar of California

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San Diego (October 9, 2015) – On October 6, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 387 (SB 387), which includes new transparency amendments proposed by the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law’s Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL). The bill subjects the State Bar of California to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which requires the State Bar to meet, and make decisions, in public. The Bar must also now comply with the California Public Records Act.

CPIL’s Robert Fellmeth, executive director and Price Professor of Public Interest Law at USD, has been pushing the Bar to abide by these transparency laws for more than 30 years. “The regulation of the legal profession should set an example of transparency and democratic accountability,” said Fellmeth. “That is not its record. With some notable exceptions, the pattern has been one of ‘we are special’ arrogance, claiming exemption and citing spurious arguments.”

These so-called “sunshine statutes” are not new to state licensing boards; the boards regulating doctors, nurses, dentists and other trades and professions have been required to comply with the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act and the California Public Records Act since the 1960s. Fellmeth contends that where a state agency, operating on behalf of the people, is controlled by members of the very profession it is regulating, the importance of conducting its business openly is enhanced.

Ed Howard, CPIL’s senior counsel who was instrumental in lobbying for these amendments in Sacramento, says transparency rules are highly important for boards. “They behave differently if they know they’re being watched. These rules change the culture of an agency,” said Howard.

CPIL staff, including Julianne D'Angelo Fellmeth, administrative director, and Bridget Gramme, assistant administrative director, have been attending State Bar governing board meetings for several years, speaking up when the Board of Trustees conducts its meetings in a manner that violates the Bagley-Keene Act.

“These are the leaders of the legal profession, yet they have resisted transparency for decades,” said D’Angelo Fellmeth. “They have been exempt from all these rules that have applied to other boards for so long, that’s what they are used to, and they don’t want to change.”

CPIL has submitted multiple letters, and provided ample testimony to the legislature and the State Bar itself, advocating for increased transparency at the Bar. In a July 2015 letter to Assemblymember Mark Stone, Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, CPIL provided extensive commentary on six main issues at the State Bar, including its failure to conform its own open meeting rules to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, and the Bar’s refusal to respond to lawful requests for records. In the July letter, CPIL wrote:

The examples above illustrate a pattern of secrecy, nontransparency, deliberate evasion and ignorance of clearly applicable laws, and dereliction of regulatory duties. This conduct is not acceptable for any government agency, much less one charged with regulation of the legal profession and protection of the public as its “paramount” priority.

“This application of our two sunshine statutes to the Bar is long overdue,” said Fellmeth. “We expect it to be the start of other changes to bring attorney regulation into the world of functional democracy, including a now-required check on self-serving restraints of trade that demark much trade and profession regulation in all 50 states.”

About the Center for Public Interest Law

Founded in 1980, the University of San Diego School of Law’s Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) serves as an academic center of research and advocacy in regulatory and public interest law. CPIL focuses its efforts on the study of an extremely powerful, yet often overlooked, level of government: state regulatory agencies. Under the supervision of experienced public interest attorneys and advocates, CPIL law student interns study California agencies that regulate business, professions, and trades.

About the University of San Diego School of Law

Celebrating 60 years of alumni and student 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 84 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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