New Rule Now Forces California Attorneys to Report Other Attorneys’ Misconduct
Until now, lawyers in California who observe misconduct by other attorneys have had no legal obligation to notify the State Bar or anyone else, however, this is about to change.
The State Supreme Court has just approved a rule that will require California attorneys to report wrongdoing by other attorneys to the State Bar or a court. The rule, effective August 1, 2023, applies to any lawyer who learns that a colleague has committed a crime or an act of fraud, theft or any conduct involving “dishonesty, deceit, (or) reckless or intentional misrepresentations.”
Every other state already has a similar reporting requirement.
The Bar began hearings this week on possible disbarment of John Eastman, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, over his involvement in Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential Election and the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The actions by the Bar and the court come in the wake of a scandal involving Tom Girardi, a once-prominent Los Angeles lawyer now charged with embezzling millions of dollars from his clients over a 10-year period. An investigation commissioned by the State Bar found that Girardi had made gifts to bar staff members and used his influence with the bar to delay its investigation of him.
California’s state auditor reported last year that the State Bar’s disciplinary system dismisses too many complaints against lawyers without public notice or explanation, allows law practice by attorneys disciplined in other states and fails to police conflicts of interest on its own staff. The audit said the Bar’s secretive processes made it difficult to hold lawyers accountable.
For misconduct by any of California’s licensed attorneys, “the State Bar either hasn’t known what’s going on or hasn’t been paying attention” and needs to hear more from its members, Laurie Levenson, a Law Professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Thursday. “I think lawyers have been reluctant to report,” she added. “They fear they will be seen as some type of snitch and people will retaliate against them.”
California’s lawyers will now be legally bound by their “moral duty to report criminal acts and misconduct that imperil the public,” said Ruben Duran, an attorney in San Bernardino County and chair of the State Bar’s Board of Trustees, who proposed the new rule last November.
The disclosure requirement will not apply to confidential information lawyers receive from their clients, or to information a lawyer learns while representing another attorney already accused of misconductYou can read more about these new rules here .
View our free CLE course “The Attorney Disciplinary Process” to learn exactly what will happen should you ever face disciplinary proceedings for attorney misconduct. And you can take a look at our CLE bundles here or just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions regarding your state’s CLE compliance rules.