CBJ - June 2012 #06. Online access to ethics opinions would guard against 'dog law'.

Author:By Diane Karpman

California Bar Journal


CBJ - June 2012 #06.

Online access to ethics opinions would guard against 'dog law'

The California LawyerJune 2012Online access to ethics opinions would guard against 'dog law'By Diane KarpmanAs I write this column, the jury in the John Edwards trial has just begun deliberating. What a sordid mess for one who sought to become the leader of the free world to now be facing a possible maximum sentence of 30 years. Part of the defense seemed to be that he was no longer a candidate, and therefore the money was not used for political purposes. It was only used to conceal a tawdry affair from his cancer-ridden spouse. Nobody could even make up these facts.

Scott Thomas, former Chair of the Federal Election Commission, was poised to testify that third'party payments (Bunny Mellon's money, or "Bunny money") used to cover up an affair during a political campaign had never come up during his 30 years with the agency. In other words, there has never been a case involving a conviction for that conduct. Lawyers rely on precedent to establish new law, or to conform their conduct to accepted norms.

As you all know, lawyers are subject to discipline when their conduct falls below certain requirements and violates the Rules of Professional Conduct. At the California State Bar Court, there are trials and there is an appellate department that has for more than 20 years published the State Bar Court Reporter, which is available for an initial subscription of $375, with updates for $150 per year. You can also purchase these cases via Lexis and Westlaw.

But wait a minute, you might be saying. Don't our dues already fund the State Bar discipline process: the investigators, prosecutors, judges, facilities, and everything contained within? You mean we have to pay additional sums to find out how the cases come out, after we paid for everything else? Isn't that like double taxation? How would the decisions exist if we had not already paid for them? Don't we want lawyers to conform to their obligations? Isn't it counterintuitive to charge them extra for the decisions?

Now, it is true that you can access the decision if you know the person's name. Last month, I was looking for the Johnson decision. Trying to "backdoor" it, I went to the member search on the site, only to find that there were 1,287 lawyers named Johnson in...

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