New Summary Disbarment: Now With Extra Summary!

Keaton largeCalifornia lawyers who commit felony crimes found their sledding a bit tougher on January 1, 2019. On that date new amendments to Business and Professions Code section 6102(c) went into effect, expanding the definition of crimes subject to summary disbarment. Summary disbarment, as the name implies, is disbarment without a hearing where the attorney is allowed to present evidence at mitigating circumstances. The prior version of the statute provided for summary disbarment for felony crimes that involved moral turpitude per se, crimes that involve moral turpitude in every instance. The new version of the statute provides for summary disbarment upon not just for conviction of crimes of moral turpitude per se but also for felony crimes that involve moral turpitude in the surrounding facts and circumstances.

The summary disbarment statute has been around for a long time and it’s gone through many changes. Originally it provided for summary disbarment upon conviction of either a misdemeanor or felony involving moral turpitude (see In the Matter of Rothrock (1940) 16 Cal.2d 449. 451. In the 1950’s, perhaps reflecting a more lawyer-friendly environment, the statute was changed to provide for felony disbarment in crimes where “(1) An element of the offense is the specific intent to deceive, defraud, steal, or make or suborn a false statement” and “(2) The offense was committed in the course of the practice of law or in any manner such that a client of the attorney was a victim.”  In the Matter of Lilly (Review Dept. 1992) 2 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 473, 478; 1993 WL 277528.  The statute was amended in 1997 to its penultimate formulation, removing the requirement that the crime victimized a client or occurred in the course of the practice of law and expanding it to any crime of moral turpitude.

Moral turpitude is an “elusive concept incapable of precise general definition.” (In re Higbie (1972) 6 Cal.3d 562, 569. Older case law defined moral turpitude broadly as “an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.” In re O’Connell (1920), 184 Cal. 584, among many other different formulations (see People v. Castro (1985) 38 Cal.3d 301, 333 (J. Bird, dissenting): “As one commentator stated, “[j]udicial definitions of moral turpitude are so imprecise that it is only a matter of conjecture   whether a particular crime involves it.” (Note, Entrance and Disciplinary Requirements for Occupational Licenses in California (1962) 14 Stan.L.Rev. 533, 542.) With respect to attorney discipline, the definition has been refined through the years to a slightly more precise formulation: “[I]n attorney discipline cases; moral turpitude should be defined with the aim of protecting the public, promoting confidence in the legal system, and maintaining high professional standards.”  In Re Grant (2014), 58 Cal. 4th 469, 476.  Once we get away from the relative certainty of crimes involving dishonesty and intentionally violence, moral turpitude evokes Justice Potter Stewart’s famous (paraphrased) statement on obscenity:  “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

So if the crime itself doesn’t necessarily involve moral turpitude, what does moral turpitude in the surrounding circumstances mean?  In Re Alkow (1966) 64 Cal.2d 838 involved an attorney convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which is not a crime of moral turpitude per se (see People v. Coad (1986) 181 Cal. App. 3d 1094, 1104).

“After his driver’s license expired in 1961 Alkow made one attempt to secure another license, but it was refused on the ground that he had defective vision.  From the time his license expired until he committed the manslaughter, he was convicted of more than 20 traffic violations, at least 11 of which were for driving without a license. On December 5, 1963, he pleaded guilty to a violation of right of way and driving without a license, and on December 6, 1963, he pleaded guilty to driving without a license and without evidence of registration. He was placed on probation for one year in each action upon the condition that he not violate any laws. On January 16, 1964, he pleaded guilty to a failure to observe a boulevard stop and driving without a license and was placed on probation for one year upon the condition that he not violate any laws and upon the further specific condition that he not drive without a license.

About 6 p.m. on February 15, 1964, while driving without a license in violation of the terms of his probation and the law, he struck and killed a woman pedestrian in Santa Ana. His defective vision was one proximate cause of the accident. Although he did not intend the accident, he knew his vision was defective and reasonably must have known that injury to others was a possible if not a probable result of his driving.

Alkow, at 839–40.  A more contemporary example is the result in an unpublished State Bar Court Review Dept. opinion in In the Matter of Wyatt, State Bar Court case no. 11–C–17662,  2014 WL 642699, filed February 7, 2014.  Wyatt plead nolo contendere to felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (Penal Code section 191.5.)  Wyatt lied to a police officer about how much he had to drink (his BAC was .18%).  Both the hearing judge and the Review Department found that lie to be moral turpitude in the surrounding circumstance.

An example on the other side of the ledger is In Re Fahey (1973) 8 Cal.3d 842, where an attorney’s repeated failure to file tax returns over a period of years was found not to involve moral turpitude in the surrounding circumstances because expert psychiatric testimony evidence was introduced suggesting that the conduct was the result of Fahey’s “suffering from a psychoneurotic condition that substantially impaired his ability to take proper care of his personal financial affairs.” Fahey, at 850.

Some might say that the change in section 6102(c) isn’t that great since applicable discipline standards (Standard 2.15) provide that disbarment is the presumptive discipline for a felony involving moral turpitude in the surrounding circumstances.  But Wyatt at least had the opportunity to demonstrate mitigation, wanting though it was found, something future respondents in his position won’t enjoy.  There will be a hearing in every felony conviction to determine if it qualifies for summary disbarment and if it does, no further hearing to discuss mitigation.

Over time, the discipline system has gotten less and less sympathetic to attorneys who commit crimes.  This latest change certainly won’t be the last in that progression.  There has never been a worse time to be both an attorney and criminal. But that will change.

Roche v. Hyde, A SLAPP Saga Only 8% As Long As “War & Peace”

Tolstoy’s masterpiece “War and Peace” is 1,225 pages long. Roche v. Hyde (First Appellate Dist, Div. 4, case no. A150459, filed 6/30/20) is only 95 pages long. If you must while away the empty hours of summer reading only one really long story, which one would you choose?

Even a Cliff Notes version of Roche is probably too long for this blog so I will try to boil it down to the essentials with some help from the Court, which laments that “While the ultimate issue may be put simply, that is not so for the case as a whole.”

Chapter 1 The Sale of Winery and the Fight Over Non-Disclosure

In 2006, Ram’s Gate Winery, LLC (Ram’s Gate) purchased a Sonoma County winery from Dr.Joseph G. Roche (Roche) and his wife. Ram’s Gate later sued the Roches for breach of contract, fraud, and negligent nondisclosure based on claims they withheld seismic information about the property and made misstatements concerning the ability to build on an existing building pad. The protracted litigation ultimately ended with Ram’s Gate dismissing the action, Roche paying nothing to Ram’s Gate, and Ram’s Gate paying most but not all of Roche’s attorney fees.

Chapter 2 The Malicious Prosecution Action

Roche then brought a malicious prosecution suit against Ram’s Gate, two of its members, Michael John and Jeffrey O’Neill (collectively,Ram’s Gate or the Ram’s Gate defendants),along with their attorney, Thomas Hyde (collectively with Ram’s Gate, the defendants), alleging they withheld documents in discovery that would have proved they knew or should have known the seismic information they claimed was kept from them when they bought the property from Roche.

Chapter 3 The Inevitable Anti-SLAPP

The defendants filed special motions to strike the complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation(anti-SLAPP motions). Following denial of their anti-SLAPP motions, the Ram’s Gate defendants and Hyde separately appealed. Though they largely take a common position in these now consolidated appeals, Ram’s Gate and Hyde have appeared separately and have filed separate briefs, as they did in the trial court. Together, the defendants attack the denial of their anti-SLAPP motions from many angles—necessitating the extended discussion to follow—but at its core the single issue before us, put simply,is whether Roche made a sufficient showing that he was likely to succeed on the merits. We conclude he did and therefore affirm.

So far, the story doesn’t seem that interesting. SLAPP specialists will appreciate the detailed discussion of the SLAPP issues. But the ethics lawyer’s eye is caught by the Court’s self-admittedly “harsh” view of lawyer’s Hyde’s conduct, and how it affects Ram’s Gate”s advice of counsel defense:

The Ram’s Gate defendants do not contend on appeal that evidence of their malice was lacking, but Hyde does. The singular aggressiveness of his position, in our view, betrays its weakness.

Hyde is in the least credible position to make such a claim, since it was Hyde who discovered the Boudreau Report in the 2005 Due Diligence Binder before filing the underlying action. It was Hyde who, as the attorney representing Ram’s Gate, was responsible for undertaking a reasonable investigation into the facts before making irresponsible accusations in a pleading.

Rather than acknowledge the possibility of any misjudgment, Hyde doubles down. The four-and-a-half-year record of withholding discovery, we are told, is not his fault. Roche, Hyde argues, is to blame because Simon was negligent in not serving a subpoena seeking production of the JHP Land I client files on the correct party.And according to Hyde, the only reason the JHP Land I client files were eventually produced was due to Hardy’s “unethical” decision to produce materials from that file.He even claims to have no idea why Hardy failed to produce the Boudreau Report in the spring of 2012, as if his request of Hardy not to produce the client files of JHP Land I never happened.

Ultimately the sheer brazenness of the posture Hyde assumes may present credibility issues for the finder of fact to assess, but for now it adds nothing to the weight of his arguments. If anything, it detracts from them.

Whatever else happens here, the Ram’s Gate defendants seek to preserve their ability to argue “[t]here can be no imputation to a client of his attorney’s misconceived legal analysis so as to void the client’s good faith reliance on his counsel’s advice as providing probable cause.” (Brinkley v. Appleby (1969) 276Cal.App.2d 244, 247.) They point out that “non-attorney defendants can usually demonstrate the existence of probable cause, and thus avoid liability, by evidence showing that they relied on the advice of counsel in good faith after full disclosure of the facts.”(Downey Venturev. LMI Ins.Co., supra,66Cal.App.4th at p.496, fn.24; see also Sosinsky v. Grant (1992) 6Cal.App.4th 1548, 1556 [“‘Probable cause may be established by the defendants in a malicious institution proceeding when they prove that they have in good faith consulted a lawyer, have stated all the facts to him, have been advised by the lawyer that they have a good cause of action and have honestly acted upon the advice of the lawyer.’”].) About this, all we need say is that issues concerning any advice-of-counsel defense by the Ram’s Gate defendants must be sorted out at trial.”

Emphasis added. California Rule of Professional Conduct 3.1 (former Rule 3-200) prescribes an ethical standard very similar to elements of malicious prosecution. Our Rule 3.4 “Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel“, restating the substance of several former Rules, says that “a lawyer shall not…may not suppress any evidence that the lawyer or the lawyer’s client has a legal obligation to reveal or to produce.”

There was no sequel to “War and Peace.” But Roche v, Hyde will have one when the matter is tried on remand. We don’t know if it will be published but if so it may be a good read.

The Headline Says It All: “Contemporaneous Time Records Are the Best Evidence of Lawyers’ Hourly Work”


Taylor v. Traylor, Second App. Dist., Div.8, case no.B296537, filed 6/10/20.  Lawyer represented two plaintiffs on a police shooting case for approximately one month in 2016. When the plaintiffs fired him, they requested their file and Lawyer refused to provide it.  Lawyer later submitted notice of lien and two contradictory accountings of hours worked, one showing 130 hours of work for one client, and 180 hours for the other client.  Later, the settled for $7 million.  After that, the lawyer submitted a third accounting showing 200 hours spent on the case. The trial court found jurisdiction to adjudicate Traylor’s lien, granted the lien in the amount of $17,325.  Lawyer appealed, contending that he was owed $309,000.  The Court of Appeals found that the lawyer’s timekeeping records were so inconsistent that they could not be relied on.  Moreover, the fact that no work product was turned over when the lawyer’s representation supported an inference that no meaningful work had been done.  The Court stated its reasons for publishing the opinion:

We publish to underline that contemporaneous time records are the best evidence of lawyers’ hourly work. They are not indispensable, but they eclipse other proofs. Lawyers know this better than anyone. They might heed what they know

The Court of Appeal found no reason to overturn the $17,325 award, finding it “generous” and “nothing he should complain about.”  The Court also awarded Respondent’s their costs.

The opinion underlines the extreme importance of keeping time records in all cases, hourly cases and contingent fees, any case where the lawyer might need to prove the value of their work, that is, almost every case.  While not required, an accurate accounting of time is single best most tangible measure of that value and one of the factors that a fee arbitrator, a civil court judge or the State Bar will look at in evaluating not only the reasonable value of services, but also whether the fee is unconscionable under California Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 (see 1.5(b)(12).  Yes, it is a chore but I will let the Court of Appeal have the last word on that:

Contemporaneous time records surely are a bother to keep. But people paying those bills are entitled to care about accuracy. At hundreds of dollars an hour, minutes here and minutes there add up. Accuracy is a professional virtue and a systemic concern. The public is entitled to confidence the justice system is just as careful about getting legal bills right as it is about getting everything else right. And exact clocks and timekeeping software have made it rather easy to be accurate—extremely accurate.


Smart Got: Disbarment for Felony Conviction for Forceful Assault Now Precedent

The Review Department of the State Bar Court has ordered publication of its April 10, 2020, opinion In the Matter of Smart, case no. 17-C-03687.  It upheld the hearing judge’s recommendation of disbarment.  Smart plead guilty to felony charges of violating Penal Code section 245(a)(4) (assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury), and Penal Code section 246.3(a) (discharging firearm with gross negligence. The hearing judge found the circumstances surrounding the crimes involved moral turpitude and that Smart had failed to demonstrate the compelling mitigation necessary to avoid disbarment under Standard 2.15(b).

Publication of Smart now makes it a citeable precedent in State Bar Court (Rule of Procedure 5.159).  The State Bar’s discipline office (the Office of Chief Trial Counsel  (OCTC)) asked for publication and now that they have got Smart, they will make liberal use of it in arguing for high levels of discipline in any case remotely close to its facts.  How effective it is as precedent is debatable; on levels of discipline, as opposed to procedural and other issues, the key yardstick is a “balanced consideration of all relevant factors…including factors particular to the offense and the offender” Howard v. State Bar (1990) 51 Cal.3d 215, 221–22; In the Matter of Van Sickle (Review Dept. 2006) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 980, 993.  The facts of Smart are extreme; so is the result.  It has too often been said that when the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  The is a relative lack of citeable case law on the appropriate discipline for crimes involving assaultive behavior that Smart helps to fill but it doesn’t help establish what the discipline should be for a case less far along the crazy continuum, so it isn’t very helpful.  Nonetheless, it will be cited often, much like In the Matter of Guillory has become a standard reference in OCTC argument on DUI cases.  Guillory is a disbarment case involving serial misdemeanor drunk driving over a period of years by a former Deputy District Attorney who attempted to use his status to evade arrest and prosecution.  Extreme facts, extreme result.

Attorney discipline resulting from criminal convictions has gotten more attention lately because of the State Bar’s fingerprinting snafu that caused all California lawyers to have to submit fingerprints again.  This has resulted in a lot more criminal conviction proceedings in State Bar Court.  Many of those are DUI cases that were never reported as required by the criminal prosecutor (Bus. & Code section 6101(b).) Some of them are many years old.  Precedents like Smart and Gulllory can fuel a tendency to case every criminal conviction in the worse possible light. So far, in my view, the State Bar Court has continued to honor the Supreme Court’s standard, that appropriate discipline is a balanced consideration of all relevant factors, including those particular to the offense and the offender.  After all, it is precedent.

Nguyen v Ford: The Long Goodbye Gets a Little Shorter


Nguyen v. Ford (Sixth App. Dist., case no H046809, filed 4/24/20, published 5/13/20) addresses tolling under the legal malpractice statute of limitations, specifically Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6(a)(2) which provides that  the limitations period is tolled while “the attorney continues to represent the plaintiff regarding the specific subject matter in which the alleged wrongful act or omission occurred.”  Nguyen hired Ford to pursue a discrimination cause of action against her former employer. They lost in Federal District Court.  Nguyen then executed a new fee agreement for Ford’s services in appealing that ruling in the Ninth Circuit.  During the course of the appeal, the attorney-client relationship broke down and Ford filed a successful motion to withdraw from Nguyen’s representation in the appellate court, granted in April 2015.  Nguyen hired new appellate counsel, but to no avail, the Ninth Circuit upholding the dismissal of her case in May 2018.  Six months later she filed a legal malpractice action against Ford.

Nguyen argued that, although Ford stopped representing her in the appeal in April 2015, she never withdrew from representing her in the Federal District court, thus tolling the legal malpractice period of limitations until her action was dismissed in May 2018.  The Sixth District disagreed.  They found that formal withdrawal is not required to end the tolling provision for continuous representation.

“In addition, the inquiry into when representation has terminated does not focus on the client’s subjective beliefs about whether the attorney continues to represent him or her in the matter. Instead, the test is objective and focuses on the client’s reasonable expectations in light of the particular facts of the attorney-client relationship. “In deciding whether an attorney continues to represent a client, we do not focus ‘ “on the client’s subjective beliefs” ’; instead, we objectively examine “evidence of an ongoing mutual relationship and of activities in furtherance of the relationship.”’ [citations]. Representation ends “ ‘ “when the client actually has or reasonably should have no expectation that the attorney will provide further legal services.  [citation]  In other words, tolling under the continuous representation exception ends when “ ‘ “a client has no reasonable expectation that the attorney will provide further legal services.”

Nguyen, slip opinion at 11.  Even if you regard the District Court proceeding and the Appeal as two separate representations, Nguyen could not have had a reasonable expectation that Ford someone continued to represent her in the District Court, given that Ford had served with notice that her motion to withdrawal in the appeal had been granted, a notice of lien by her “former attorney”, and even a notice of withdrawal in the District Court action, all in April 2015!

Nguyen also tried to argue that her breach of fiduciary duty claim was not barred by section 340.6.  The Sixth District noted that section 340.6 applies to the provision of professional services, not just legal services and that Nguyen provided no evidence that the breach occurred other than in the provision of professional services.

The Nguyen case has application even in contexts outside legal malpractice. Not the least is the rule of limitation in disciplinary proceedings, State Bar Rule of Procedure 5.21, which contains a similar tolling provision while the attorney represents the complaining witness.  It is also relevant for the application of Rules of Professional Conduct, such as Rule 1.8.1, which governs business transactions with current clients.

Notwithstanding Nguyen, giving the former client explicit notice that the relationship has ended is still a sound risk management tool.


Hush Agreements on State Bar Complaints



Recently amended AB 3362 is notable for the fact that it reduces State Bar licensing fees (“dues” no longer) by a munificent $34.00.  But a recent amendment also shines a light on a statutory provision often overlooked, often to a lawyer’s sorrow: Business and Professions Code section 6090.5, which addresses what might be called a State Bar “hush” or non-disclosure agreement.  Here is redlined text, showing the current statute and what the amendment would change:

 (a) It is cause for suspension, disbarment, or other discipline for any licensee, whether as a party or as an attorney for a party, to agree  acting on their own behalf or on behalf of someone else, whether or not in the context of litigation to solicit, agree,  or seek agreement, that:
(1) The professional misconduct  Misconduct  or the terms of a settlement of a claim for professional  misconduct shall not be reported to the State Bar.
(2) The plaintiff A complainant  shall withdraw a disciplinary complaint or shall not cooperate with the investigation or prosecution conducted by the State Bar.
(3) The record of any civil action for professional misconduct  action or proceeding  shall be sealed from review by the State Bar.
(b) This section applies to all settlements, whether made before or after the commencement  agreements or attempts to seek agreements, irrespective of the commencement or settlement  of a civil action.
The statute, first passed in the great wave of disciplinary reform of the mid-1980s ((Sen. Bill No. 1569 (1985–1986 Reg. Sess.))means to facilitate the public policy of that the State Bar’s discipline prosecutor should be made aware of potential attorney misconduct. The statute is broad, forbidding even seeking such an agreement as well as making one.  The amendments are mostly intended to clarify the statute, including clarifying that someone acting on the client’s behalf can violate the rule.  The one substantive change is changing replacing “plaintiff” with “complainant” correcting language that has been puzzling for over thirty years.  This hasn’t prevented the statute from resulting in discipline even where the complainant was not a “plaintiff” in any pending actions (see In the Matter of Brockway (Review Dept. 2006) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 944, 2006 WL 1360438.
In an unpublished Review Department decision (In the Matter of Karnazes, State Bar Court case no.10–O–00334, filed 1/2/14. 2014 WL 232500), the following “non-disparagement clause” agreed to in a civil settlement filed after a State Bar complaint had been filed, was found to violate 6090.5:
‘The Parties agree that in the event of any inquiry regarding this former dispute with the other party, they shall state that all of Zachary’s claims have been resolved and that he is not at liberty to discuss the terms of that resolution. Zachary further agrees not to disparage [Karnazes], her business, or any of her officers or employees.”’

Karnazes involved a different but not unique set of facts involving “serious overreaching of the attorney-client relationship under the guise of parental concern. Respondent Elizabeth M. Barnson Karnazes used the legal system to further her desire to control her adult son, who was also her client. In doing so, she lost sight of her ethical obligations and committed serious misconduct, including misappropriating over $57,000 of his settlement funds through conversion, commingling over $100,000 of her personal funds with his, and filing a lawsuit directly adverse to him. After her son filed a complaint with the State Bar’s Office of the Chief Trial Counsel (State Bar), Karnazes compounded her misconduct by conditioning the release of his funds on his agreement not to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation. In the end, Karnazes withheld her son’s settlement funds for more than three years and released them only four days before her disciplinary trial.”

Karnazes, slip opinion at page 1. The attorney was disbarred in California and subsequently disbarred in New York on reciprocal discipline.
COPRAC formal ethics opinion 2012-185 addresses violations of section 6090.5 and interpreted the statute broadly, concluding:
Business and Professions Code section 6090.5 bars an attorney’s attempt, in settling a dispute with his or her client, to seek or obtain a client’s oral or written agreement not to make a State Bar complaint. Section 6090.5 may also prohibit a lawyer from seeking representations of the client’s intentions or actions regarding filing a complaint with the State Bar. Even a simple contractual factual recitation that the client has not yet made a State Bar complaint in the past may be an ethical violation since it could produce a chilling effect on the client’s future actions. Once a lawyer seeks such an oral or written agreement, the withdrawal of that request will not cure the ethical violation.
The ethics opinion suggests that the actual language in the proposed hush agreement is less important than whether a “chilling effect” is intended.  For this reasons, creative “work arounds” to evade section 6090.5 are not wise.
Is it an ethics rules or a regulatory rule?  That is an interesting question but ultimately about as relevant as the question of whether Certs is a breath mint or a candy mint, because you can be disciplined for violating it, and the statute itself prescribes substantial discipline: suspension or disbarment.  Moreover, it is buried in a Business & Professions Code, a place many lawyers, otherwise familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct, overlook, a trap for the unwary.

A Rainy Night In Georgia Legal Ethics

A black man is murdered. Two white suspects tell the police that the killing was self-defense. The police do not pursue the investigation.  Later, video is leaked to the news media that appears to show that the murder was not self-defense, that the murdered man was defending himself against one of the shotgun-wielding suspects.  The video provokes outrage.  The suspects are arrested and charged with murder, assault and assisting a felony.

And the source of the leaked video – a lawyer that the suspects had consulted with.

It sounds like a law school hypothetical but it isn’t.  It is the Ahmaud Arbery case. It presents one of the most difficult and disturbing problems in legal ethics.

Lawyers owe a duty of loyalty to their clients, including a duty to not to disclose confidential information that would be harmful to the client’s interests or embarrassing to the client.  That duty is also owed to prospective clients, even those who never ultimately employ the lawyers, on the theory that it encourages prospective clients to be candid with their prospective lawyer, to give the prospective lawyer all the information the lawyer needs to evaluate the case.  American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rule 1.18 reflects this tenet of legal ethics:

(a) A person who consults with a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter is a prospective client.

(b) Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has learned information from a prospective client shall not use or reveal that information, except as Rule 1.9 would permit with respect to information of a former client.

Every state has now adopted some version of the Model Rules, including Model Rule 1.18, with every state making its own changes.  Even California, the last holdout, has now adopted its own California customized version of the Model Rules, including its own Rule 1.18.  Georgia has not adopted Rule 1.18 but does have a comment to its confidentiality rule 1.6 that covers the same ground:

[4A] Information gained in the professional relationship includes information gained from a person (prospective client) who discusses the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter. Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, the restrictions and exceptions of these rules as to use or revelation of the information apply, e.g. Rules 1.9 and 1.10

According to the New York Times:

The lawyer, Alan Tucker, said in an interview on Friday that the video had come from the cellphone of a man who had filmed the episode and that he later gave the footage to the radio station. Mr. Tucker’s role was confirmed by Scott Ryfun, who oversees the station’s programming.

Asked why he had leaked the video, Mr. Tucker said he had wanted to dispel rumors that he said had fueled tension in the community. “It wasn’t two men with a Confederate flag in the back of a truck going down the road and shooting a jogger in the back,” Mr. Tucker said.

“It got the truth out there as to what you could see,” he added. “My purpose was not to exonerate them or convict them.”

But for the consultation with suspects, Tucker would not have obtained the video. If Tucker had not leaked the video, murderers might have gotten away their crime.  But it looks like Tucker violated important principles of legal ethics, loyalty and the preservation of confidentiality.  Does loyalty to the community trump loyalty to the client?  Should the fact that he might have prevented a miscarriage of justice mitigate any violation?

Abbe Smith, in her law review article Telling Stories and Keeping Secrets  8 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. 255-268 (2005), came to this conclusion:

It could be that, in the end, I don’t have much faith in lawyers. I don’t want them to exercise their own moral discretion about whether to disclose client confidences. I don’t want to give lawyers the authority to determine when it is in the public interest to divulge confidences, even if they were allowed to do so only under limited circumstances, such as “where necessary to avoid ‘substantial injustice.'” I worry about lawyers acting as a “self-appointed moral elite,”‘ over-looking or overriding long-standing ethical standards in order to advance their own views of justice.

When a lawyer is confronted with the hardest legal ethics questions in concrete terms, they churn in the lawyer’s conscience, like a dark night in a Georgia thunderstorm. As they should.  But in the end, I agree with Smith. I can admire the “cause” lawyer, who thinks the cause trumps everything else, but only to a degree. In the end, we are have taken an oath to support the law and the ethical rules, and we have to pay the price for our choice.

State Bar Sues LegalMatch.com for Operating Uncertified Legal Referral Service

The State Bar of California has filed an action in San Francisco Superior Court alleging that LegalMatch.com is operating as an uncertified legal referral service.

This comes after the California Supreme Court’s denial of LegalMatch.com’s petition for review of the Court of Appeal decision in Jackson v. LegalMatch.com on March 11, 2020.

It also comes after LegalMatch.com has been operating for more than 20 years.  After a brief flurry of activity in the late 1990’s, the State Bar ignored uncertified legal referral services and LegalMatch.com and many similar businesses have operated with impunity.  No longer.  Mr. Jackson and the Court of Appeal have forced the State Bar’s hand, with some nudging from the Supreme Court.

Attached to the complaint as Exhibit A is a letter to LegalMatch.com dated March 31, 2020, from Alison Lippa, Assistant General Counsel of the State Bar.  It details LegalMatch.com’s failed efforts to submit an application to become a certified legal service after the Jackon decision came down, efforts that failed in part because of the requirement that lawyers who participate in a certified legal referral service have malpractice insurance.  It also references an earlier exchange of correspondence between Leah Wilson, former Executive Director of the State Bar, and LegalMatch.com, where LegalMath.com sought assurances that lawyers who accepted referrals would not be subject to State Bar discipline.  Ms. Wilson, pointedly, could offer no such assurance.

Lawyers who accept referrals from an uncertified legal referral service could be subject to discipline under several legal theories.  Business and Professions Code section 6155(a) says that no lawyer shall accept referrals from an uncertified legal referral service.  A violation of that section could be prosecuted as a violation of Business and Professions Code section 6068(a), the “gateway” statute that says that it is an attorney’s duty to support the law (see In the Matter of Lilley (Review Dept. 1991) 1 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 476.)  Such a referral might also violate Business and Professions Code section 6152, which prohibits capping, again through 6068(a) gateway.  This stature also makes capping a crime.  Finally, Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(b) prohibits payment “for the purpose of recommending or securing the services of the lawyer or the lawyer’s law firm” subject to an explicit exception for payment to a certified legal referral service (Rule 7.2(b)(2).)

Will the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) actually prosecute lawyers for participating in uncertified legal referral services?

It did in the 1990s;  those cases were all settled for reproval level discipline, all but one private reprovals.

It may again.  It can’t be ruled out, especially given the recent zeal displayed by OCTC in seemingly trivial matters.  In the words of one State Bar discipline defense attorney, “no fish is too small to fry.”  Perhaps they will merely rely on the in terrorem effect of the recently filed action against LegalMatch.com.  OCTC is largely moved by complaints and few, if any, complaints are made that involve uncertified legal referral services. But OCTC is not limited to complaints and can open its own investigations, dubbed SBIs, for “State Bar Investigations.”  Discovery in the LegalMatch.com action might yield a list of potential targets and a few might be prosecuted, just to put some teeth into that in terrorem effect.

In the meantime, lawyers who use these services are assuming the risk, a risk difficult to quantify.


Reinstatement: A Notable Dissent That Few Will Note


On March 25 ,2020, the California Supreme Court denied a petition for review of a State Bar Court decision in a reinstatement case filed by former attorney Stephen J. Liebb.  That in itself is unremarkable;  the Supreme Court denies most petitions for review of State Bar Court decisions.  Liebb is notable because Justices Liu and Cueller would have voted to accept Mr. Liebb’s petition and filed a statement of dissent. It is a little hard to read on the Court website, so it is reproduced below.

The issue is when Mr. Liebb’s rehabilitation clock begins to run.  The State Bar Court did not give Mr. Liebb credit for his good works done while serving time in prison for first-degree murder, citing the Court’s decision in In Re Menna (1995) 11 Cal.4th 975, 989 for the proposition that his clock doesn’t begin to run until his release from prison.  The Review Department, like the hearing judge, found the 13 months between his release and the reinstatement hearing insufficient to find a “sustained period of exemplary conduct”, the formula articulated in Menna required to establish rehabilitation.

What is notable is that two justices were willing to revisit that part of Menna that had been regarded as black letter law.  Of course, only the Supreme Court can do that.  The context is that the Supreme Court has granted very few petitions for review from any decisions of the State Bar Court since the California Rules of Court were revised in 1992.  Sometimes it seemed like they had exited the field altogether.  It is good to know that they haven’t, even if Liebb’s case did not make the cut.

The request for judicial notice is granted. Liu and Cuéllar, JJ., are of the opinion the petition should be granted.

DISSENTING STATEMENT BY LIU, J. In 1983, when petitioner Stephen Liebb was 26 years old, he was convicted of first degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Liebb, who was a lawyer at the time, resigned from the State Bar with disciplinary charges pending. In prison, Liebb turned his life around. He maintained a discipline-free record for three decades, participated in a dozen rehabilitative programs, obtained an associate’s degree, and provided legal assistance to fellow inmates. In all, Liebb spent 31 years in prison and three years on parole, which he completed early. Upon release, he continued his rehabilitation by volunteering with a law school organization and working at nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping the formerly incarcerated reenter society. In 2017, 36 years after committing his crimes, Liebb sought reinstatement to the bar. The Hearing Department of the State Bar Court (Hearing Department) found that “[e]vidence of [Liebb’s] rehabilitation is most compelling and impressive. He has taken responsibility for his life and past misconduct; he has resurrected himself into a trustworthy, law-abiding and conscientious member of the community.” Nonetheless, it denied his reinstatement on the ground that he had not demonstrated exemplary conduct for a sufficient period of time. The court declined to credit Liebb’s decades of rehabilitation efforts while in custody and considered only the 10 months between his discharge from parole and the filing of his reinstatement petition. The State Bar Court Review Department (Review Department) affirmed the denial on the same grounds, stating that Liebb’s more than three decades of rehabilitation in custody was entitled to “little weight.”

Our law has not applied such a draconian approach. We have said that evidence of conduct ordinarily required of inmates and parolees does not rise to the level of “exemplary conduct” necessary to show rehabilitation. (In re Gossage (2000) 23 Cal.4th 1080, 1096 (Gossage).) But that proposition, even if correct, does not address the situation here, where there is persuasive evidence that Liebb has demonstrated rehabilitative efforts in custody that go well beyond the conduct ordinarily required of inmates and parolees. Moreover, there are reasons to doubt that a decades-long record of ordinary good behavior in custody should be treated with greater skepticism than noncustodial good behavior, at least with respect to life inmates who have served sentences as long as Liebb has served. The compelling record in this case presents an opportunity to address what weight an applicant’s rehabilitation while in custody may be given in reinstatement proceedings, an issue we have not addressed in 20 years. Much has changed in those 20 years. Thousands of inmates have served long sentences, and many now have realistic hopes of release. Our Legislature has ameliorated the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, allowing formerly incarcerated persons to serve on juries (Stats. 2019, ch. 591, § 1), to have a fair shot at employment (Stats. 2017, ch. 789, § 2), and to seal their records (Stats. 2019, ch. 578, § 7). Our electorate has recognized that rehabilitative behavior in custody may lead to sentencing reductions. (Cal. Const., art. 1, § 32, added by initiative, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 8, 2016), commonly known as Prop. 57.) I would grant review to consider when the legal profession may also afford second chances to formerly incarcerated individuals with compelling records of rehabilitation in custody.

Stephen Liebb’s past misconduct was as egregious as his subsequent redemption has been remarkable. In 1981, Liebb, then 25, had recently graduated from UCLA School of Law and become a member of the California bar. He began having disagreements with the landlord of his apartment, who was also the father of his friend Michael Diller. After several violent outbursts in which Liebb assaulted Michael’s brother and an employee in the apartment’s management office, Liebb confronted Michael and plunged a knife into his chest, killing him. Liebb was convicted of first degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 26 years to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. In 1983, Liebb was placed on interim suspension from the State Bar pending the final disposition of his criminal proceedings, and in 1989, he voluntarily resigned from the State Bar. While incarcerated, Liebb’s record was free of violence since 1989 and, according to the Hearing Department, “excellent since 1991.” He underwent psychological therapy to deal with his anger management issues. Liebb completed 12 rehabilitation programs and classes involving individual and group therapy and self-help treatment. He also completed a three-year paralegal program and received an Associate of Arts degree from a college program run by the Prison University Project. Throughout his participation in these programs, Liebb received overwhelmingly laudatory reports from program supervisors, teachers, and corrections officers. Liebb also assisted fellow inmates with legal work, helping them prepare habeas petitions, file civil rights lawsuits, and secure new parole hearings. In 2012, Liebb was granted parole after six previous denials. The parole board (Board) weighed the severity of his crimes against his age and progress toward rehabilitation, and concluded that Liebb no longer posed a danger to public safety. The Board considered the facts that Liebb was 56 at the time of the hearing, that he demonstrated genuine remorse, that he presented a low risk of violence to society, and that he had been free of discipline for 21 years in prison. He was released on parole in October 2013. On parole, Liebb continued his rehabilitation. He attended anger management classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings five days a week, participated in a mentorship program for recently released individuals, and attended weekly therapy sessions. In 2016, Liebb began working as a law clerk. Since then, he has also worked for two nonprofit organizations dedicated to assisting former inmates reintegrate into society, and he has volunteered with San Francisco Public Works and University of California Hastings College of the Law. Liebb was discharged from parole four years early in November 2016, which, according to expert testimony cited by the Hearing Department, “indicates, in the eyes of the parole board, that [Liebb] poses zero risk to public safety.” In support of his good moral character, Liebb presented an “impressive array of 17 highly reputable character witnesses credibly attesting on his behalf, ” including his employers and attorneys who knew him personally. The Hearing Department also found that Liebb had expressed remorse for his crimes and, as required by the rules governing reinstatement, possessed the present ability and learning in the general law. The Hearing Department “commend[ed] Petitioner’s tremendous efforts in successfully integrating into society and commitment to making amends for his crime.”

Nonetheless, the Hearing Department denied reinstatement on the ground that Liebb had not “shown exemplary conduct over an extended period of time since his discharge from supervised release in November 2016.” It declined to credit Liebb’s years of rehabilitation in prison and on parole because ” ‘[g]ood conduct is normally demanded of a prisoner and a parolee.’ (In re Menna [(1995)] 11 Cal.4th [975, ] 989.) ‘It is not enough that [Petitioner] kept out of trouble while being watched on probation; he must affirmatively demonstrate over a prolonged period his sincere regret and rehabilitation.’ (Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1989) 49 Cal.3d 933, 939.)” The Review Department affirmed, stating that “little weight can be placed on good conduct while in prison for the purposes of showing rehabilitation in State Bar matters.” II. In California, a petitioner for reinstatement to the practice of law who previously had been disbarred or resigned with disciplinary charges pending must (1) pass a professional responsibility examination within one year prior to filing the petition; (2) establish rehabilitation; (3) establish present moral qualifications for reinstatement; and (4) establish present ability and learning in the general law by providing proof of taking and passing the Attorneys’ Examination within three years prior to the filing of the petition. (Rules Proc. of State Bar, rule 5.445.) There is no dispute that Liebb has fulfilled the first and fourth requirements. Only his rehabilitation and present moral qualifications are at issue. The Hearing Department and Review Department relied on a line of cases from this court to conclude that Liebb’s rehabilitation in custody was entitled to little or no weight. (See Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1099; In re Menna, supra, 11 Cal.4th at p. 989 (Menna); Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 939 (Seide); In re Giddens (1981) 30 Cal.3d 110, 116 (Giddens).) But those cases do not establish such a broad rule; instead, they stand for the proposition that evidence of conduct ordinarily required of inmates and parolees usually does not rise to the level of “exemplary conduct” necessary to show rehabilitation. (Gossage, at p. 1096.) They do not suggest that evidence of rehabilitative efforts above and beyond the conduct ordinarily required in custody must or should be discounted. We first suggested that conduct ordinarily required of individuals in custody should be discounted in Giddens, supra, 30 Cal.3d 110, where we ordered the disbarment of an attorney for financing a months-long scheme to sell amphetamines. (Id. at p. 113.) At the time of the hearing, he had served two years in prison and was on parole. (Id. at p. 112.) Weighing the severity of the crime against mitigating factors, this court concluded that the attorney should be disbarred. (Id. at pp. 115-116.) We stated that although the attorney could apply for reinstatement at a later date, on the record before us “[t]he lack of any extenuating circumstances surrounding the misconduct convinces us that further proof is needed of the requisite ‘standard of fitness’ during a period when petitioner is neither on parole . . . nor under supervision of the bar.” (Id. at p. 116.) We did not explain our reasoning for this limitation.

This court offered somewhat more elaboration in Seide, supra, 49 Cal.3d 933, where we denied an applicant admission to the bar for multiple arrests and convictions for drug trafficking over a seven-year period, including when he was in law school and studying for the bar. (Id. at p. 936.) At the time of his State Bar hearing, five years after the commission of his last crime, the petitioner had served a sentence of 147 days in prison and was still on federal probation. (Id. at pp. 935-936.) He presented no evidence of rehabilitation while incarcerated. As evidence of his rehabilitation on probation, the petitioner showed that he had started a family, stayed out of prison, and found employment. But we afforded these achievements little weight, stating that they ” ‘fail[] to indicate the type of rehabilitation normally expected in this type of case. The majority of [petitioner’s] post-incarceration activities constitute what is ordinarily expected as a member of society.’ ” (Id. at p. 941.) The evidence the petitioner provided did not demonstrate that his conduct was above and beyond the ordinary. In Menna, supra, 11 Cal.4th 975, we declined to admit an applicant to the State Bar who, over a period of three years, engaged in compulsive gambling, misappropriated his clients’ funds to pay off his gambling debts, and manufactured methamphetamine for sale. When the petitioner applied for admission to the California State Bar after being permanently disbarred from New Jersey, it had been eight years since his last conviction and five years since he completed probation for that conviction. (Id. at pp. 980-981.) While incarcerated, the petitioner had organized and led a weekly Gamblers Anonymous meeting and continued to attend such meetings after his release. (Id. at p. 981.) But we declined to credit those three years in prison and on parole, stating that “[g]ood conduct is normally demanded of a prisoner and a parolee.” (Id. at p. 989, citing Seide, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 939, Giddens, supra, 30 Cal.3d at p. 116.) Most recently in Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th 1080, we declined to admit an applicant to the State Bar who had a nine-year-long history of drug, forgery, theft, and driving offenses, as well as a voluntary manslaughter conviction for killing his sister. (Id. at pp. 1084-1093.) The Review Department credited the petitioner with a 14-year period of rehabilitation between the time he entered prison for his last offense and the time he appeared for his State Bar hearing. (Id. at p. 1099.) The petitioner had spent two of those years in prison and on parole, and had subsequently “repeatedly violated state traffic laws and sustained several misdemeanor convictions for mishandling [those] matters in court.” (Id. at p. 1088.) The petitioner did not submit any evidence of rehabilitation while in custody, except that it was in prison that he vowed to become sober. Unlike the Review Department, we did not credit the petitioner’s years in prison or on parole, stating that “[s]ince persons under the direct supervision of correctional authorities are required to behave in exemplary fashion, little weight is generally placed on the fact that a bar applicant did not commit additional crimes or continue addictive behavior while in prison or while on probation or parole.” (Id. at p. 1099, citing Menna, supra, 11 Cal.4th at p. 989, Seide, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 941.) Moreover, we noted that the petitioner violated probation and accrued a number of driving offenses after his release. (Gossage, at p. 1099.)

None of the above cases held that any rehabilitative conduct in custody must be discounted in the reinstatement analysis. They concluded only that behavior consistent with the minimum requirements of custody is usually not evidence of the rehabilitation necessary for readmission to the bar because readmission requires demonstration of conduct above and beyond what is required. Our decisions said that not much weight can be given to ” ‘activities [that] constitute what is ordinarily expected as a member of society’ ” (Seide, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 941), behavior “normally demanded” of a person in custody (Menna, supra, 11 Cal.4th at p. 989), or the fact that a petitioner did not “commit additional crimes or continue addictive behavior” (Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1099). But our cases did not discount good conduct above and beyond that which is ordinarily required of inmates and parolees. We had no occasion to consider such conduct because none of the petitioners in the cases above submitted substantial evidence of such conduct. Liebb’s crimes are more serious than the petitioners’ offenses in these previous cases. None of those petitioners committed first degree murder. But Liebb has also submitted overwhelming evidence of an unbroken decades-long path of affirmative conduct demonstrating his rehabilitation beyond that of an ordinary prisoner or parolee. His completion of a dozen self-help programs and academic degrees, his legal assistance to inmates, and his volunteer work on parole and early discharge from parole seems as exemplary as it gets for an individual in his circumstances. The Review Department disagreed, explaining that his programming in prison cannot be considered because “the Board required the positive programming he engaged in while in prison as a condition for his release.” But this reasoning moves the goalposts for what is required of inmates. Conditions for early release, which an inmate need not fulfill, differ from the rules and regulations that all inmates must follow. In any event, the Hearing Department indicated that Liebb exceeded even the requirements for release, noting that “[t]he Board later found him to have far exceeded the standard of rehabilitation.”

Moreover, it is significant that Liebb’s incarceration and record of affirmative good conduct in custody was far lengthier than those of the petitioners in the previous cases. (See Giddens, supra, 30 Cal.3d at p. 112 [two years in prison, two years on parole]; Seide, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 936 [147 days in prison, five years on probation]; Menna, supra, 11 Cal.4th at p. 980 [one year in prison, two years on parole]; Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at pp. 1086-1087 [one year in prison, one year on parole].) Although avoiding discipline during a brief period of incarceration may have limited value as evidence of rehabilitation or good moral character, I do not think the same can be said of three decades of rehabilitative behavior comprising, in Liebb’s case, more than half of his life at the time of his release on parole. In sum, Liebb has shown compelling evidence of rehabilitation through decades of concerted effort, exemplary behavior, and positive contributions to his community both in and out of custody. He does not resemble the petitioners in our prior cases, and what we said in those cases does not address Liebb’s circumstances. III. The Review Department said that “[g]iven Liebb’s grievous misconduct, a longer period of time is required” after his discharge from prison and parole, and that despite Liebb’s remorse and rehabilitation efforts, “[a] truer indication of Liebb’s rehabilitation will be if he can demonstrate exemplary conduct over an extended period of time that establishes his moral fitness to practice law.” I recognize that the rehabilitation necessary to practice law may be greater than the rehabilitation necessary to be released from prison. But it is unclear what additional time would reveal about Liebb’s moral fitness that he has not already demonstrated. Liebb was 62 at the time of his hearing; almost 40 years have elapsed since he committed his terrible crimes; and Liebb has spent more than three decades in continuous efforts to rehabilitate himself, to “mak[e] amends for his crime, ” and to “successfully integrat[e] into society.” As the Hearing Department found, “He has taken responsibility for his life and past misconduct; he has resurrected himself into a trustworthy, law-abiding and conscientious member of the community.” Would another three, four, or five years of programming, steady employment, or community service – against the backdrop of Liebb’s “most compelling and impressive” rehabilitation efforts over more than three decades – tell us much more about his character than the record already shows? The Review Department provided no clear answer to this question. It did not dispute the hearing judge’s finding that “Liebb demonstrated remorse for his crimes and his victims.” The Review Department’s decision asserts that Liebb’s therapy and programming in prison, while “contribut[ing] substantially to his personal well-being, ” “do not demonstrate truly exemplary conduct in the sense of returning something to the community Liebb harmed.” But it is not clear why Liebb’s comprehensive record of therapy and self-help programming, even if focused on bettering himself, should not count as rehabilitative; indeed, Liebb’s serious and sustained engagement with therapy and programming while in prison seem paradigmatically rehabilitative. In any event, contrary to any suggestion that Liebb has not returned something to the community, the record is replete with evidence of Liebb’s volunteer and community service activities both in and out of prison. The Review Department merely recited these activities without considering them in its analysis.

The Review Department also noted that “Liebb has not continued anger management therapy after his release from supervised parole, which is important because it directly addresses his past violent criminal misconduct.” But any suggestion that Liebb may still pose a danger to the public is belied by the record. As the Hearing Department noted, Liebb had been violence-free since 1989, the Board found that he “presented a relatively low risk of violence in the free community, ” and an expert observed that Liebb’s “early discharge from parole indicates, in the eyes of the parole board, that Petitioner poses zero risk to public safety.” The Review Department did not address these facts. In sum, the Review Department did not explain how further indicia of rehabilitation over “a longer period of time” would materially alter the present portrait of this applicant. To be sure, the length of time since an individual’s misconduct is a consideration relevant to reinstatement. (See Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1096 [“Cases authorizing admission on the basis of rehabilitation commonly involve a substantial period of exemplary conduct following the applicant’s misdeeds.”].) The more time that has elapsed since a person’s misconduct, the more confident one can be that the person has reflected on past wrongs and has changed, and “the more serious the misconduct . . . , the stronger the applicant’s showing of rehabilitation must be.” (Ibid.) But, as the Hearing Department observed, Liebb “has gone through a process of reformation and transformation. He is not the same person as he was in 1981, almost 37 years ago . . . . He has clearly now matured. He is one of the convicted who has so much to teach society about rehabilitation and redemption – what it takes to be a person again and give back to society.” Whatever the ultimate merits of Liebb’s reinstatement petition, I would grant review to address the important legal question this case presents: whether a reinstatement petitioner’s exceptional efforts devoted to rehabilitation must be discounted or ignored because they were made while in prison and on parole.

Separate and apart from the fact Liebb’s good conduct has gone well beyond what is ordinarily required in prison or on parole, I have doubts about discounting a petitioner’s good conduct in custody even if such conduct is ordinarily required. As noted, our cases have relied on the unexamined rationale that because good behavior in a custodial setting is mandatory, it is not probative of good moral character. This proposition seems questionable on several grounds. First, it is not clear what evidence supports the assertion that an inmate who displays good behavior in prison does so only because the rules require him to do so, and not because the inmate’s compliance is indicative of rehabilitative progress. A different view is that inmates, especially those with long prison terms, demonstrate good behavior not simply because they are supervised, but because over time they have “progressed through phases of increased conscience, remorse, self-discovery, and redemption through service to others.” (Kreager & Kruttschnitt, Inmate Society in the Era of Mass Incarceration (2018) 1 Annual Review of Criminology 261, 269.) Indeed, the “bad man” theory of compliance (Holmes, The Path of the Law (1897) 10 Harv. L.Rev. 457, 461) seems at odds with the basic penological principle that incarceration, among its many goals, serves to rehabilitate the offender.

Second, as the Hearing Department recognized, maintaining a discipline-free record is “difficult to do . . . in a prison setting.” Given the restrictive rules of prison and the myriad ways those rules can be violated (see People v. Contreras (2018) 4 Cal.5th 349, 378-379), it is all the more remarkable when an inmate avoids violence and other rule infractions while in custody for as long as Liebb did. Indeed, there is widespread agreement in the penological literature that opportunities and incentives for violence and misconduct abound in prison. (See Cochran & Mears, The Path of Least Desistance: Inmate Compliance and Recidivism (2017) 34 Just. Q. 431, 435; Bottoms, Interpersonal Violence and Social Order in Prisons (1999) 26 Crime & Just. 205, 241; Robertson, The Constitution in Protective Custody: An Analysis of the Rights of Protective Custody Inmates (1987) 56 U.Cin. L.Rev. 91, 93-94; see also Farmer v. Brennan (1994) 511 U.S. 825, 858-859 (conc. opn. of Thomas, J.) [“Prisons are necessarily dangerous places . . . . Regrettably, ‘[s]ome level of brutality and sexual aggression among [prisoners] is inevitable no matter what the guards do . . . .’ “].) Prison environments and their accompanying dangers often cause inmates to resort to violence to protect themselves or to assert social dominance, making brutality a common occurrence. (See Irwin, The Warehouse Prison: Disposal of the New Dangerous Class (2005); Rhodes, Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison (2004); Adams, Adjusting to Prison Life (1992) 16 Crime & Just. 275; Levin, Fight, Flee, Submit, Sue: Alternatives for Sexually Assaulted Prisoners (1985) 18 Colum. J.L. & Soc. Probs. 505, 508-509.) Underground economies involving the sale of drugs, cell phones, and other contraband create webs of exploitation and debts enforceable by violence. And understaffing and overcrowding have made these problems worse. (See Brown v. Plata (2011) 563 U.S. 493, 520 [noting that overcrowding in California prisons “promote[s] unrest and violence, making it difficult for prison officials to monitor and control the prison population”].) A clean record is therefore difficult for any prisoner to maintain. The fact that Liebb managed to do so for 21 years, including periods when his prisons (Corcoran and San Quentin) were badly overcrowded, seems quite probative of his character, separate from the positive programming he completed over those years.

Similarly, we have “recognize[d] the difficulties an exconvict faces in assimilating himself back into society.” (Seide, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 938.) Parole involves a high-supervision environment and strict rules of conduct that are easy to violate. (Hyatt & Barnes, An Experimental Evaluation of the Impact of Intensive Supervision on the Recidivism of High-Risk Probationers (2017) 63 Crime & Delinq. 3, 5-6, 26.) I do not see why Liebb’s spotless record on parole – which, along with his steady employment and community service activities, earned him an early discharge – should not be considered as evidence of rehabilitation in the reinstatement analysis. It is notable that several other jurisdictions give consideration to in-custody rehabilitation efforts in the bar reinstatement context. They have either expressly stated that good conduct while in custody is entitled to some weight (Statewide Grievance Comm. v. Ganim (2014) 311 Conn. 430, 467, fn. 35 [87 A.3d 1078]), or they have regarded such conduct to be so obviously relevant that they have considered the conduct without comment (Matter of Simmons (2018) 190 Wn.2d 374, 390 [414 P.3d 1111]; In re Cooke (2012) 425 Md. 652, 690 [42 A.3d 610]; In re Reinstatement of Ditrapano (2018) 240 W.Va. 612, 618 [814 S.Ed.2d 275]; Application of Rowell (1988) 305 Or. 584, 592 [754 P.2d 905]; In re Manville (D.C. 1988) 538 A.2d 1128, 1135). These decisions, several of which postdate Gossage, provide further context for why I believe this case presents an appropriate occasion for us to reexamine the relevance of in-custody rehabilitation for bar proceedings in our state. V. Liebb’s record of rehabilitation is compelling, and the Hearing Department and Review Department denied Liebb’s reinstatement petition on the sole ground that he had not shown a sufficient period of rehabilitation outside of custody. I would grant review to consider what weight may be given to his lengthy rehabilitation while in custody and under supervision in assessing his application for reinstatement to the State Bar. In light of the court’s denial of review, I note that it has now been more than three years since Liebb was discharged from parole and nearly two years since he was denied reinstatement by the Hearing Department. Liebb may reapply for reinstatement two years following the effective date of an adverse decision. (Rules Proc. of State Bar, rule 5.442(c).)


Client’s Mere Acknowledgement Insufficient to Satisfy Fee Splitting Rule

Reeve v. Meleyco, Third App. Dist., case no. C085867, filed 3/24/20.  Client contacts lawyer 1 about a serious traffic accident inuring the client’s wife and child.  Client and lawyer 1 meeting with lawyer 2 about the case and discuss a division of fees, 35% to lawyer 1.  Lawyer 2 and client sign a fee agreement without any discussion of the fee division.  Lawyer 1 continues to work on the case. Client becomes nervous that he will have to pay lawyer 1 in addition to paying lawyer 2 his contingent fee.  Lawyer 2 sends client a document that asks him to certify his “understanding” that lawyer 1 would receive 25% of the fees and that the total fee would not be increased because of the division.  Client signs the following acknowledgment “I, [client], acknowledge receipt of this letter and understand the contents.”  The case settles, the money is disbursed but lawyer 1 is not paid.  He files an action against lawyer 2 and recovers a judgment based on breach of the fee splitting agreement and quantum meruit.  On appeal, the judgment is reversed. The Court of Appeal finds the fee-splitting agreement is unenforceable because the client did not expressly approve the terms of the division, as required by former Rule of Professional Conduct 2-200 (now Rule 1.5.1. It also found that the quantum meruit claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations (Code Civ. Proc. §339.)

ATILS Shrugged



On March 12, 2020, the Board of Trustees of the State Bar of California voted to shelve consideration of most of the proposals contained in the final report of the State Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS).  Among the most heralded of those proposals was the the so-called “sandbox”, a program that would relax regulatory standards for certain projects designed to test the efficacy of innovation in the delivery of legal services, including their potential for harm to the public.  The exact nature of these sandbox proposals was not precisely defined but presumably with revolve around one or more of these three axes – non-attorney ownership of legal service providers, relaxed unauthorized practice of law of rules, and commodification of legal services through technological platforms.  Utah and then Arizona had adopted the sandbox concept.  ATILS did not in its initial set of recommendations released for public comment in July 2019.  Those recommendations prompted a tsunami of negative comment, mostly from practicing lawyers. and largely about the proposed changes to Rule 5.4, the rule forbidding non-lawyers from owning a stake in law firms or dividing fees with lawyers

This seemed to be a surprise to the advocates of legal reform.  But it should not have been.  The crisis in “PeopleLaw” sector, to use Prof. Henderson’s nomenclature, is not only about clients who can’t get access to justice but about lawyers who can’t make a living serving those markets.  Opening up PeopleLaw to competitors fired with non-lawyer investment would make even more difficult for these lawyers to compete.  Not being able to beat them, they would be compelled to join them, becoming employees in larger, more bureaucratic legal service providers designed around efficiency, at less compensation with no control over their working conditions.  A similar path to that followed in recent decades by our fellow professionals in the medical field.

Moreover, ATILS did not present much evidence to support its view that relaxation of ownership rules would decrease the costs of legal services.  The evidence it did marshall was a law review article examining the implementation of “Alternative Legal Structures” in Great Britain which found that most non-lawyer investment went not to grossly underserved PeopleLaw sectors like family law but to areas that were much more lucrative like personal injury, products liability and mass torts (Robinson When Lawyers Don’t Get All The Profits, 29 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 1.

Not exactly a surprise; investors, like Willy Sutton, go where the money is.

Sally and Johnny pondering the use of dispute resolution software platforms for in pro per marital dissoution litigants.

Hence, the sandbox, a safe space where entrepreneurs would be allowed to develop the evidence supporting the structural change advocated by the legal reformers. It is a curious concept, and not only the name, which conjures up children engaged in enjoyable frivolity. Perhaps this is meant to evoke the child-like creativity of the entrepreneurs who will find use it to find new ways to deliver legal services at low cost, without much need for expensive lawyers.  It falls into place a little more neatly when you learn that “sandbox” is a software development jargon:  “A sandbox is a testing environment that isolates untested code changes and outright experimentation from the production environment or repository, in the context of software development including Web development and revision control” as defined by Wikipedia.  The ATILS proposals are being pushed by the tech industry and software developers are very clearly in touch with their inner children.

Which is part of why they are going nowhere, for now. Certainly, the intervention of Covid 19 pandemic played a part in putting the “sandbox” on hold.  But the backdrop is a growing disillusion with technology and its alleged benefits, growing skepticism that the tech industry really has society’s best interests at heart.  Disruptive technologies have made people fearful, not more secure.

At some point, the “sandbox” is probably inevitable and a good thing.  There is no path backwards for lawyers, only forward, and that path is not going to be easy. Technology products may help to bring down the costs of some legal services (see Sally and Johnny, above.) Limited license practitioners could bring down the costs of routine services as well.  Legal education may transform itself into practical training without the academic excesses that make it needlessly expensive.  Lawyering is not going to be the same; it will be smaller, more focused, less independent. It’s been moving that way for some time now. The challenge is preserving some shreds of humanity amid the economic pressure to commodify and tech-up.  For that reason alone, tapping the brakes on dramatic restructuring of the profession is a good thing.