kanBARoo Court. 30C Installment. Why the Supreme Court wants to avoid discipline cases and what to do about it
A fact little appreciated because of that court’s draconian powers, the State Bar Court is not a real court of law. The State Bar Court's jurisdiction derives entirely from the Supreme Court, the State Bar being both a semi-private corporation and an administrative arm of the Supreme Court, a compound status whose incoherence we ignore, as we ignore exceptions to Supreme Court jurisdiction for some lesser disciplinary penalties. The convoluted characterizations of the State Bar’s court’s legal status show that the Bar assumes powers constitutionally uncontemplated, as in In re Rose (2000) 22 Cal.4th 430, which relates to another bad trade-off in State Bar procedure, a subject of Richard Fine's current writ petition to the California Supreme Court, Richard Isaac Fine v. State Bar, Case No. S161247 (http://tinyurl.com/2xcgl4) The case added yet another epicycle to truncate respondents’ right to invoke a real court's jurisdiction, critical because permitting attack from outside the ingrown, collusive State Bar system. In re Rose unfortunately holds that when an attorney petitions the Supreme Court for review of a final decision, the court need not hear oral argument or provide a written opinion. The Supreme Court concluded anomalously it exercised final jurisdiction over all acts of disbarment yet denied that final judgments were subject to the conditions and protections the California Constitution afforded causes in constitutional courts. The court's arguments are so contrived that were they raised by a petitioner before that court, petitioner would risk sanction. The Supreme Court maintained:
Nothing in the debates regarding the written-decision requirement in article VI, section 2, of the Constitution of 1879 suggests that the term "cause" was intended to extend to attorney admission and disciplinary proceedings. [Citation.] The generally understood legal meaning of that term also supports the conclusion that such matters are not causes. The word "cause" is a synonym for “‘a proceeding in court, a suit, or action.' "[Citations.]
A petition for review of a State Bar Court recommendation regarding admission or discipline does not fall within any of these definitions. Like the proceeding in the State Bar Court, it is sui generis—the procedures governing ordinary civil and criminal proceedings do not necessarily apply. [Citations.] (In re Rose, supra, 22 Cal.4th at pp. 452-453.)Absence of evidence that the Legislature included Bar proceedings is not evidence of the absence of its intent. Since Legislature showed its intent precisely, by using the term “cause,” its legal meaning is wholly dispositive. Even if the State Bar proceeding itself is not a "proceeding in court," the law requires that the Supreme Court’s disbarment procedure is such a proceeding.
As Justice Kennard stated in dissent:
The majority's decision here produces a startling anomaly: Attorneys are the only persons whose state occupational licenses can be revoked or suspended without a judicial hearing. When the right to continue practicing a trade or profession is at stake, only attorneys are denied their day in court. I would avoid this anomaly by recognizing that the state Constitution's guarantees of oral argument and a written opinion apply in attorney suspension and disbarment proceedings. (In re Rose, supra, 22 Cal.4th at p. 461 [dissent, Kennard, J.].)The State Bar Court was not a usurper but passive recipient from its Supreme Court benefactor. Superficially, practical necessity—the growing weight of attorney numbers—compelled bureaucratization. Justice Kennard's excellent dissent in this revealing case refutes the rationalization by counter-example: the Supreme Court could have divided the cases within the Court of Appeal. Of the Supreme Court's motives for deviating from legislative intent, I speculate, and In re Rose attests to the burden of attorney discipline:
By 1990, before we adopted a policy of discretionary review pursuant to rule 954, we were issuing more than 40 opinions annually in State Bar disciplinary proceedings, and the number was increasing. (In re Rose, supra, 22 Cal.4th at p. 457.)The Supreme Court doesn't like State Bar cases, as is apprehended from its growing annoyance, before it gave up in the Lipson line of cases. (See Lipson v. State Bar (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1010, 1016; Sugarman v. State Bar (1990) 51 Cal.3d 609; Baker v. State Bar (1989) 49 Cal.3d 804 ; Maltaman v. State Bar (1987) 43 Cal.3d 924, 931; and (1987) 43 Cal.3d 962, 968.). Nobody enjoys dealing with State Bar counsel, arrogant and incompetent, their work product unintelligible. Rational beings, Supreme Court justices prefer to place disciplinary cases in an isolation container, somehow to find a way to ensure due process yet avoid, as in Rose, signing tendentious opinions.
Rose's gravamen is not identical to Fine's; it serves to indicate why, in the course of the law’s development, Fine arrived at the present procedural posture. The governing procedural law was not always as today, and Fine v. State Bar independently pinpoints the inconsistency between judicial procedures and legislative intent. The issue Fine v. State Bar brings to the Supreme Court via petition for writ of mandate is: must the Supreme Court provide a written order after denying an interlocutory petition for review? Rose does not foreclose Fine's issue, because Fine contends statutory law expressly requires written orders following summary denial of a petition for review, a requirement the law does not expressly apply to disbarment, distinguishing Rose’s unfortunate holding. The statute governing these interlocutory summary denials states:
In any case in which a petition to review or to reverse or modify is filed by either party within the time allowed therefor, the Supreme Court shall make such order as it may deem proper in the circumstances. Nothing in this subdivision abrogates the Supreme Court's authority, on its own motion, to review de novo the decision or order of the State Bar Court. (Bus. & Prof. Code, section 6084, subd. (a).)The dispositive issue of statutory construction concerns the scope of the permissive term "may”: must the court issue some order? Is the Legislature saying that the Supreme Court must issue any order only if it deems orders proper or that it must issue some order, selecting the one it deems proper? The rule’s language supports Fine’s construal, under the canon against surplusage, the rule of statutory construction that requires giving effect to every part of the statute. In the second quoted sentence above, the statute reiterates it does not abrogate the Supreme Court's universal authority to review any time on its own motion. A permissive rule as to orders, already in place, is surplusage in Business and Professions code section 6084.
Rose also contains implications for how to contest the State Bar in the real courts, in the comments of Justice Brown, separately dissenting:
Unless, by dint of skill or luck, the issues are framed so they are deemed to fall within the ambit of rule 954, an attorney facing suspension or disbarment from the right to practice her profession gets no hearing, no opportunity for oral argument, and no written statement of reasons—from this or any other article VI court. … (In re Rose, supra, 22 Cal.4th at pp. 466-467 [dissent, Brown, J.].)Justice Brown states with judicial precision that a respondent's prospects for obtaining actual review depend on neither where the issues actually fall relative to rule 954’s ambit nor how the Supreme Court arbitrarily characterizes them. Respondents must frame the issues so they clearly fall within the rule and must state their case so clearly that a busy and avoidant court grasps the issues and ratifies the arguments.
In combination, written clarity, relevance, and concision are uncommon among trial attorneys, whose expertise is oral and who instinctively seek completeness and correctness. Put it out there, encompassing every bit of evidence, every significant logical connection, and a properly functioning court will absorb it. In truth, language must be crafted to persuade, undaunting in mass, ultra-clear in exposition.
The Supreme Court should grant Fine's mandamus petition and allow Fine to state his arguments, orally as well as in writing.
Because of its length, I will count this installment as two. Next installment due in one week.