(Sacramento, CA) – Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) announced that his Senate Bill 40, which would authorize the State Bar of California (State Bar) to collect yearly license fees for 2024 in the same amount as the prior year (2023), and make other changes to the State Bar Act, was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday evening.
Normally a relatively uncontroversial bill, the annual State Bar license fees measure has taken on increased significance in recent years in the wake of the Tom Girardi scandal and the State Bar’s mishandling of the controversy. “Thank you, Tom Girardi for providing the revelation as to how much reform is, in fact, required to ensure we are protecting consumers,” noted Senator Umberg, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in closing remarks on the Senate Floor last month.
This year, State Bar leaders requested a substantial fee increase to cover employee salary raises and to address a structural budget deficit. “Frankly, with the amount of controversy concerning the State Bar, my colleagues and I believed it would be premature to tax its members to provide the agency with additional funds,” said Senator Umberg. “The Legislature has been clear in its direction to the State Bar to reform its disciplinary process and increase oversight and transparency. While there has been progress, there is still a ways to go to provide the public and lawyers with confidence in a system that is effective and fair.”
In addition to maintaining the same licensing fees for 2024, SB 40 will, among other things:
- Allow the State Bar to use building proceeds from the sale of its San Francisco office to pay for operating expenses;
- Prohibit private reproval letters moving forward;
- Require the California State Senate to confirm the Bar’s next Executive Director and General Counsel;
- Implement statutory language to complement the California Supreme Court’s mandatory reporting rule adopted earlier this year;
- Add a duty to report attorneys engaged in treason or sedition; and
- Implement a diversion/mentorship program for low-level and correctable attorney violations.
“SB 40 substantially increases the chance that bad actors in the legal field, including those who may be engaged in conspiracy against the government, will be caught and disciplined,” added Senator Umberg. “I want to thank Governor Newsom and my colleagues for their support of this measure this year. I think I speak for all of us when I say that every action we take is with the goal of protecting Californians – and that absolutely includes those engaged in the legal system.”
SB 40 was signed into law on October 10, 2023 as Chapter 697 of the Statutes of 2023. Its provisions will take effect on January 1, 2024.