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California State Bar

It Is Not Effectively Managing Its System for Investigating and Disciplining Attorneys Who Abuse the Public Trust

Report Number: 2020-030

April 29, 2021

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As Business and Professions Code section 6145 (b) requires, my office presents this report of our audit of the State Bar of California (State Bar) and our findings that the State Bar’s reorganization of its discipline system has neither satisfied its statutory requirements nor improved the efficiency or effectiveness of the discipline system.

In 2016 the State Bar reorganized the staffing for its discipline system in response to a review of the system prompted by a requirement established in state law. However, from 2015 through 2020, case processing times for the investigative phase of attorney discipline cases increased by 56 percent, and the backlog of cases increased by 87 percent. These delays allow attorneys under investigation to continue practicing law while their cases are pending, increasing the potential for harm to the public. Moreover, the State Bar has not effectively monitored the impact of its reorganization because it does not adequately measure the performance of its discipline system staff.

State law also requires the State Bar to publish an annual discipline report describing the performance and condition of the discipline system, including the backlog of cases. However, the State Bar’s 2019 discipline report did not present complete or consistent information, limiting stakeholders’ ability to evaluate the discipline system’s performance. For example, it omitted some types of cases from its reported caseload, and it did not include information for other topics for past years—as state law requires. These omissions indicate that the current oversight provided by the Board of Trustees of the State Bar and the board committee responsible for overseeing the discipline report is inadequate.

Finally, the State Bar did not follow its policies when it contracted for examination software. It entered into a contract to obtain state bar exam software—and later entered into a contract amendment for additional security features necessary to remotely administer the state bar examination in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—collectively worth almost $4 million. However, the State Bar should have assessed and documented that the selected vendor provided the best value, which it did not do.

Respectfully submitted,

California State Auditor