Tuesday, July 7, 2009

64D Installment. Ha!Ha! The State Bar Court thinks it has inherent powers

(5h in Philip E. Kay series)

The State Bar's justification for defaulting Philip E. Kay has evolved or rather devolved. The State Bar first argued that discovery procedures could do double duty at trial. Unable to support this argument to justify radical expansion of discovery's domain, the State Bar tried a different line: failing to appear at trial includes refusal to testify. Still without an argument to make respectable its self-serving deafness to all distinction, the State Bar's July 1 reply emphasizes yet another fantastical theory: the State Bar Court's "inherent powers" authorize striking Kay's answer.

Despite an extensive California case law on the inherent powers of courts, the State Bar quotes no California cases; introducing California law would make this argument's meritlessness too obvious, since under California law the inherent powers of the courts derive from Article VI, section 1 of California's constitution. (Walker v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 257, 266-267.) The constitution defines "courts of record": the superior courts, Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court; as only Article VI courts of record have inherent powers, the State Bar Court has none. "[E]very court of record has powers requisite to its proper functioning as an independent constitutional department...," the Supreme Court repeatedly recites. (Bauguess v. Paine (1978) 22 Cal.3d 626, 635 [emphasis added].) Inherent powers are specific to the courts of record because these powers are based on the separation of powers between governmental departments, a club the State Bar Court doesn't belong to. The State Bar Court has no judicial powers — hence, no inherent judicial powers — these vested in the courts of record.

The constitution vests judicial power in specific courts and denies judicial power to all other agencies. Many institutions nominally "courts" aren't courts for constitutional purposes. The Supreme Court resolved where the inherent powers of courts end when it held that striking an answer is an unconstitutional sanction without an order from and hearing before an Article 6 judge. (Summerville v. Kelliher (1904) 144 Cal. 155.) Commissioners, notaries, and other sub-Article 6 judicial officials, such as State Bar Court judges, could not thereafter constitutionally exercise any supposed inherent power.

The State Bar Court, an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, doesn't inherit the Supreme Court's powers. The State Bar Court is a statutory creation, and statutes alone define its powers none inherent.

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