In California, all attorney licensing and disciplinary matters are handled by the California State Bar. The State Bar exists to ensure that attorneys meet specific licensing criteria and follow appropriate rules to protect the public. When attorneys are accused of unprofessional conduct or face complaints, the State Bar investigates these claims and can initiate administrative proceedings to determine if license sanction is appropriate.
Attorney Scott J. Harris is a former Deputy Attorney with the California Department of Justice. He is dedicated to protecting licensed professionals during investigations and disciplinary actions. If you are a California licensed attorney and were recently notified of a complaint against you to the State Bar, then you must respond immediately to protect your license.
CALIFORNIA STATE BAR INVESTIGATIONS
The State Bar of California investigates and prosecutes a wide variety of cases. Once an allegation is made, the Bar will investigate. Common allegations the Bar investigates include:
- Criminal convictions
- Breach of fiduciary duty
- Improper handling of client money in a trust account
- Inappropriate sexual relations with a client
- Unauthorized practice of law
The State Bar also will inquire about licensees’ mental health and physical health if the circumstances permit. Allegations that involve the improper use of alcohol or drugs will lead the State Bar to investigate whether there is an alcohol or substance abuse issue with the attorney. A simple DUI can lead to disbarment if the State Bar finds that there is a severe problem.
Anyone who performs attorney work must be a licensed attorney. Unfortunately, it is too common for immigration consultants and those who help with legal document preparation to step over the line when it comes to professional assistance. It is important to make sure you are working within your specific boundaries as a professional, or you can face unauthorized practice of law charges.
CALIFORNIA STATE BAR COMPLAINT PROCESS
Once someone files a complaint with the State Bar, the complaint is reviewed by the Office of Trial Counsel. A determination will then be made whether the complaint should start a further investigation to determine if license sanctions are warranted. If the Office of Trial Counsel determines that there is enough evidence to warrant an accusation and an administrative hearing, then the accusation is filed against the attorney.
The attorney can challenge the allegations and can hire counsel to help defend him or her. All administrative hearings will take place before the State Bar Court of California. In this Court, a judge will preside over this case and make the final findings of responsibility. The judge will then forward his or her findings for review by the State Bar, who will ultimately determine the appropriate punishment. Punishment can include fines, suspension, and even disbarment.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A CASE IS CLOSED?
Sometimes the case that was held against the attorney will be closed after the investigation, and the allegations can stay confidential. This can happen for several reasons. If the case gets closed, the board typically retains the file for around five years to ensure you are not repeating offenses.
If the alleged activity did not violate the law or cause client harm, then the State Bar may recommend arbitration to assist the attorney and the client in coming to a unanimously sufficient agreement.
The State Bar may determine that disciplinary actions are not necessary even if the attorney violated a rule in other cases. If the attorney’s actions can be a violation, but the actions of the attorney did not harm the public, then the attorney might receive a warning statement from the State Bar of future disciplinary action if that specific violation happens a second time, or another violation is committed.
STATE BAR COURT DISCIPLINARY OUTCOMES
The State Bar of California can take more than one disciplinary action against an attorney and are dependent on the severity of the attorney’s conduct and what kind of harm was caused. Many disciplinary actions are made accessible to the general public by publishing the information related to the discipline on the State Bar’s website.
It is common for discipline to include a period of probation; this can include taking an educational and informational course to having your practice monitored, continuing education, and restraints on the capacity of your practice. The provisions required by the State bar are dependent on what misconduct was charged.
If the lawyer complies with the probation’s requirements, they can get their license back with no restrictions when the allotted time is up. If the lawyer doesn’t follow the requirements, their license may face further sanction and can be permanently invalidated or revoked.
In the most serious cases, the State Bar can suspend or revoke an attorney’s license. Throughout the suspension, the attorney is not allowed to practice law. If the attorney practices law or even puts himself or herself out there as an attorney during a suspension, then the attorney can face an unauthorized practice of law charge and can even face criminal charges.
The State Bar can also order a provisional suspension if the Bar determines the attorney may behave in a manner that could harm or has harmed the public’s safety, health, or welfare. In this
case, the State Bar can request a hearing for the attorney’s license suspended immediately. If the court authorizes the license suspension, the State Bar has only 15 days to file the interim suspension and only 30 days to hold a State Bar Court hearing.
If the State Bar revokes an attorney’s license after the completion of an administrative hearing, then the attorney can’t apply for reinstatement of their license for three years. Every discipline that is charged is reported to the National Provider Databank. They are also posted on the State Bar’s license system for verification. Getting help from a State Bar License Defense Attorney is crucial to give yourself the best chance at retaining your license to practice law in the state of California.
CONTACT A STATE BAR LICENSE DEFENSE ATTORNEY
If you are facing a complaint against your law license, then it is essential to consult with an experienced license defense attorney. At the SJ Harris Law Office, we offer free consultations to any attorney facing a State Bar complaint. Contact us today at 323-794-0701 to schedule your appointment.