At its July 23 meeting, the California State Bar Board of Trustees took steps to strengthen the discipline system in the state, these include establishing a special committee—the Committee on the Special Discipline Case Audit—to undertake an analysis into the disciplinary system in the state, with a particular focus on misappropriation of client funds. The Board also directed this new committee, chaired by Trustee José Cisneros, to work with staff to develop recommendations to strengthen regulation of attorney client trust accounts. As well as this the board recommended new regulations for implementation, focused on attorney ethics and discipline. These include:
- Conducting proactive, random audits of attorney client trust accounts;
- Requiring some or all attorneys to have their trust accounts regularly audited by Certified Public Accountants;
- Requiring annual self-funded audits and reporting of client trust accounts;
- Proposing new and amended statutes, State Bar rules, rules of professional conduct, and other rules governing attorney conduct as well as standards governing discipline for client trust account violations; and
- Assessing technology and other tools that can be employed in this effort.
The Board expects to finalise a set of recommendations by the end of the year, and if implemented these changes would put California at the forefront of client fund protection in the USA. Boar Chair Sean SeLegue has said: “The Board’s actions today demonstrate resolve to identify and remedy shortcomings in our discipline system that impact the State Bar’s ability to carry out its public protection mission. That includes not only ensuring that attorney ethical violations are properly investigated and prosecuted but also innovative means of preventing misconduct and harm to the public from occurring in the first place.”