CALIFORNIA STATE BAR DEFENSE
Erin has over 18 years’ experience with all facets of the State Bar discipline process. There are at least three distinct phases of a State Bar case – the investigation (where the investigator with the help of a legal advisor determines if there is sufficient evidence to establish a violation of the State Bar Act or the Rules of Professional Conduct); pre-filing (where the respondent attorney is entitled to discovery from the State Bar and an Early Neutral Evaluation of the potential charges); and formal State Bar proceeding (initiated by the filing of a Notice of Disciplinary Charges). It is never too early to seek expert help.
Under Business and Professions Code section 6068(i), attorneys have an obligation to cooperate in all State Bar investigations in which they are a target. It is important to retain counsel experienced with State Bar’s procedures at the earliest stage of the investigation. Erin has over 18 years’ experience as a State Bar prosecutor, so she knows exactly what an investigator is looking for. It is dangerous to stonewall the State Bar. But it is probably equally perilous to provide too much information, which can lead to inquiry into areas outside the original complaint, and get an attorney into serious trouble.
The State Bar has expansive subpoena power. One client trust account (CTA) check which is dishonored by the bank (or paid against insufficient funds) will trigger the State Bar to seek bank records for several months before and after the issuance of the check which resulted in the reportable action. If the bank records show that the attorney is misusing the CTA by paying regular operating expenses (or personal expenses) from the CTA, the attorney will have to answer for much more than one bounced check.
A client complaint that the client did not receive settlement funds can likewise set in motion an audit of the client trust account which can reveal possible misconduct unrelated to the original complaint. It is important to provide direct answers to the State Bar investigator’s queries, but not so much information that you open whole new areas to investigate. Moreover, responding on your own to a State Bar investigator letter poses some risks. Even small inconsistencies or mistakes in a response can be investigated and prosecuted by the State Bar as a misrepresentation to the State Bar, which can result in significant discipline. Let Erin help you respond to any State Bar letter, so that the investigation can be closed at the earliest opportunity.
PRE-FILING/EARLY NEUTRAL EVALUATION PHASE
It is imperative to have an attorney well versed in the State Bar’s policies and procedures before facing formal charges in State Bar Court. Once an attorney receives the Notice of Intent letter, the State Bar need only wait a short time before filing the formal Notice of Disciplinary Charges (NDC) in State Bar Court. This is the last chance the respondent attorney will have to prevent the charges from becoming public. Once the NDC is filed, the NDC and the answer to the NDC are posted on the respondent attorney’s State Bar profile.
Before the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) can file charges, the respondent attorney is entitled to a copy of the investigation file and investigation report, but you have to timely request them. You also need to timely request an Early Neutral Evaluation before a State Bar Court judge. State Bar Trial Counsel counsel will not delay, if you do not promptly make the request to the State Bar Court. This is when the help of an experienced prosecutor can make the difference.
COURT & TRIAL
“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”
This is never more true than in State Bar Court, where the proceedings follow an entirely separate set of Rules of Practice and Rules of Procedure. No matter how experienced you are in civil (or criminal) litigation, it is imperative to have someone who has handled dozens of State Bar trials, and multiple appeals, by your side as you head to a hearing in State Bar Court. Erin has tried dozens of State Bar trials, and handled multiple appeals to the Review Department (the State Bar’s appellate court). Your license is valuable. Make sure to protect your livelihood by seeking experienced advice from Erin. She will help you get the best possible outcome for your case, and will assist you to avoid excessive sanctions where misconduct may have taken place.
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REPRESENTING CLIENTS THROUGHOUT ALL OF CALIFORNIA
When you get a letter from the State Bar, don’t go it alone! You need competent, experienced counsel to respond to the State Bar at every stage. Your license is at risk, so ensure you have the best representation from a former State Bar prosecutor before sending any response to an investigator or responding to formal charges leveled by the State Bar. You cannot make an informed decision without good advice. Call Erin now.