California Bar Journal
CBJ - August 2008 #05.
Lawyer misconduct charges will go online
California Bar JournalJune 2008Lawyer misconduct charges will go onlineBy Nancy McCarthyStaff WriterAfter an exhaustive debate, the board of governors voted 18-4 last month to post on the State Bar Web site disciplinary charges filed against California lawyers. The board turned back an attempt to postpone any action pending further study and rejected opposition to online postings by the majority of those who contacted the bar about the proposal.
The postings, which will be placed on a lawyer's profile page, will be phased in, beginning with any lawyer newly charged, and will eventually include notices for every California lawyer with a pending disciplinary proceeding - about 700 bar members. The lawyer's answer to the charges also will be posted.
Chief Trial Counsel Scott Drexel proposed putting charges online as a way to protect potential clients, some of whom have hired lawyers who, unbeknownst to the public, face disciplinary charges. Some, Drexel said, "lost their cases, lost legal fees, lost their legal rights as a result of not knowing if there were charges pending against their lawyer when they hired them."
He wondered aloud if people "want ready access" to disciplinary information when they hire a lawyer. "I think the answer has to be yes," he said.
Although such information has been publicly available since 1985, judges, lawyers and members of the public have had to call the bar to learn if a lawyer has a clean record. In order to obtain a copy of any charges, they must send a check to the bar to cover the 50-cents per page charge, and the document is then mailed, a process that can take two weeks.
Opponents of the online posting fretted that innocent lawyers will be unfairly tarnished and claimed that the bar often overcharges offenses, particularly those involving moral turpitude. David Carr, president of the Association of Discipline Defense Counsel, said the Web posting will cause severe "reputation damage" to lawyers who are charged with misconduct, affecting not only potential clients but pending court proceedings.
Carr also accused the bar of "overcharging" moral turpitude, an allegation he said often is not proved.
Defense counsel Diane Karpman, a Los Angeles lawyer, said online posting of charges runs counter...