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April 28, 2014
Another View: State Bar seeks to stop non-lawyers from practicing law

courthouse.JPG(April 28 - By Luis J. Rodriguez, Special to The Bee)

We take issue with Dan Walters' recent column about the State Bar of California ("State Bar's power play resurfaces," April 22).

The State Bar is working to reintroduce legislation from last year to supplement our existing enforcement powers against the unauthorized practice of law.

This effort is solely for the purpose of protecting the public, which is our legislatively mandated mission as a public regulatory body housed in the judicial branch.

In pursuit of our mission, we approached Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, last year to sponsor a bill that would help protect clients from unauthorized law practice.

This was done in the face of overwhelming evidence of harmful conduct by non-lawyers exploiting immigrants' hopes of immigration reform by Congress.

Dickinson authored Assembly Bill 888 to supplement the State Bar's power by establishing fines and penalties so the bar could crack down on non-attorneys improperly practicing law.

Although Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill in 2013, we hope the retooled version, AB 852, will satisfy Brown's belief that enforcement is adequate. It isn't. Many law enforcement agencies have indicated that they welcome the State Bar's assistance in this area.

Any money recovered by the State Bar from these civil actions would go into a restitution fund for aggrieved clients. None of the money would go to the State Bar. Nor would the bar collect attorney's fees.

The State Bar Board of Trustees has formed an unauthorized practice of law oversight committee with a majority of non-lawyer members so that no one could honestly accuse the State Bar of protecting lawyers.

In January, the committee decided that enforcement will target only cases where clients - not attorneys - complain of harm.

Finally, as it did last year, the legislation will go through a full slate of hearings, first in the Senate Judiciary Committee and then in the full Senate, then in the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the full Assembly.

We hope The Sacramento Bee will set the record straight, especially in future coverage of this important issue.

Luis J. Rodriguez is president of the State Bar of California.