Cal Supreme Court Demands Harsher Attorney Discipline

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California Supreme Court takes attorney discipline seriously.

Last week, the state's highest court returned 24 attorney discipline cases to the State Bar Court, after determining that proposed disciplinary actions were too lenient, reports the ABA Journal.

The court asked the State Bar to further consider each matter "in light of the applicable attorney discipline standards." The court cited its In re Silverton decision in a release accompanying the request, according to Metropolitan News-Enterprise.

California is the only state with independent professional judges who rule on attorney discipline cases. The State Bar of California investigates attorney misconduct complaints. If the bar finds evidence of probable misconduct, formal charges are filed with the State Bar Court by the Office of Chief Trial Counsel. The State Bar Court hears the charges and has the power to recommend that the California Supreme Court suspend or disbar attorneys.

The California Supreme Court occasionally disagrees with the State Bar Court's recommendations, as it did in In re Silverton.

In re Silverton is a 2005 case that involved an attorney who was disbarred, reinstated 17 years later, and ultimately disbarred again for entering into unconscionable agreements with personal injury clients, Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports. In that case, the State Bar Court had determined that suspension would be an adequate disciplinary measure for the unconscionable agreements. The California Supreme Court thought disbarment was the proper punishment.

State Bar Executive Director Joe Dunn commented on the attorney discipline cases on Friday, stating in a press release, "[O]ur State Bar discipline system must demand the highest professional standards of California attorneys ... The [California Supreme] Court's action, while unanticipated, is consistent with the efforts already underway at the State Bar to tighten the professional standards governing California attorneys. The return of these cases gives us an opportunity to further advance this goal."

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