60th Installment. California State Bar becomes bar-establishment laughing stock
The California State Bar became laughing stock of the State Bar Establishment when the attorney general charged clerk Sharon Elyce Pearl with embezzling $675,000. She had persisted for eight years before the California State Bar noticed. (See http://tinyurl.com/ceydkh)
A Legal Ethics Forum blogger posted:
Sad Irony: State Bar victimized by (alleged) staff embezzler: We've all heard countless times about a solo practitioner facing disciplinary consequences because the lawyer's admin embezzled funds. (
The State Bar Establishment's embarrassment isn't misplaced. The California State Bar, which terms misappropriation by staff a supervising-attorney's willful act—casually adding charges of moral turpitude when any evidence of failure to supervise can be found—proved during an eight-year period that its moralistic stance is a pose. Although the clerk didn't embezzle clients' funds, the ethical culpability is the same because the State Bar held the money as fiduciary of the people and government of California. "All property of the State Bar is hereby declared to be held for essential public and governmental purposes in the judicial branch of the government..." (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6008.) The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel, the prosecutorial entity, bears blame because that Office is charged with internal-oversight duties by the same law authorizing the State Bar's prosecution of disciplinary complaints. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6044.)
If the board of governors, which runs the State Bar, can't supervise ordinary commercial operations, how can it supervise the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel? The board of governors was designed to be ineffectual: consecutive (three-year) terms are prohibited, only annual meetings are mandated, and six members must not be lawyers. The Legislature disempowered the board of governors intending to empower the California Supreme Court, the State Bar's other supervisor, but since the Supreme Court has shown that its objectivity departs when the court hears allegations against its State Bar administrative arm, the feebleness of the board of governors unfetters the Chief Trial Counsel. (See Guarino v. Larsen (3rd Cir. 1993) 11 F.3d 1151, 1159 n.4.) Even the sycophantic State Bar Defense Establishment complains about the abrupt change in punitiveness and moralism when a new Chief Trial Counsel takes over.
This comedy isn't one of the gravest harms wreaked by the lawless State Bar, whose reckless failure to supervise public appropriations proves ethical hypocrisy.