California Bar Complaint Summary 2018

California Bar Ethics Complaint Report 2018 Summary

It’s that time of year again! The time when we share with you a summary of the California Bar ethics complaint report. A quick reminder about why we share a report with you that you could easily get on your own: we believe that by providing this information to you that you will be better prepared to take an objective look at your practice, locate any potential problems, and make the necessary changes on a proactive basis. Those proactive changes can help protect you from becoming a statistic in next year’s report.

Related:  5 Simple Legal Tech Tips to Help You Avoid an Ethics Complaint

The Beginning of Case Prioritization

To better protect the public, the State bar of California announced in their ethics complaint report summary letter that they began using a case prioritization process as an effort to better protect the public from what they believe are serious threats involving vulnerable victims, client abandonment issues, abusive and frivolous litigants, and the unauthorized practice of law. Compared to 2017, the California Bar decreased its active Priority 1 case backlog by 30%.

Inquiries and Complaints Summary for 2018

In 2018, the California Bar received 15,973 cases. They also reopened 232 cases. To compare with the 2017 numbers, there were 15,175 cases opened in 2017. There were 798 more cases received by the bar in 2018. In 2017, 221 cases were reopened. There were 11 more cases reopened in 2019. Out of all case types, 13,168 were closed with no action, 1,462 were closed with non-disciplinary action, and 649 of the filed cases were turned over to the State Bar Court.  The report states that 434 of the cases turned over to the State Bar Court were closed with discipline imposed. At the end of 2018, the State Bar Court had approximately 899 cases pending because of the current backlog.

The California bar received 12,832 complaints in 2018, compared to 12,298 in 2017. They reopened 228 complaints, compared to just 210 in 2017. Out of all complaints, 10,633 were closed with no action and 1,251 were closed out with non-disciplinary action. The State Bar Court had 387 cases filed with it in 2018, compared to the 282 in 2017. Out of the 387 cases, 263 cases were closed with discipline imposed. The report states that no complaints were closed by the State Bar Court with non-disciplinary action. However, 70 complaints were closed with no action. At the end of 2018, there were 581 complaints still pending in State Bar Court because of the current backlog.

In 2018, the California Bar initiated 404 inquiries, compared to the 352 inquiries. They also reopened one inquiry. The report states that 314 inquiries were closed with no action, 37 were closed with non-disciplinary action, and 36 were filed in State Bar Court. State Bar Court closed 25 cases with discipline imposed, nine with no action, and one with non-disciplinary action. There were 54 inquiries pending with the State Bar Court at the end of 2018 because of the backlog.

Probation Summary for 2018

In 2018, the California bar received 99 probation referrals, compared to 116 in 2017. They did not reopen any probation referrals. Out of the 99, 39 were closed with no action and one was closed with non-disciplinary action. The State Bar Court received 78 filings. The State bar Court closed 74 with discipline imposed. At the end of 2018, there were 91 pending probation referrals because of the reported backlog.

Related: If you’re currently involved with the California Bar’s probation process, Zavieh Law may be able to help. We provide probation compliance services. To learn more, please follow this link.

Self-Reportable Actions Summary for 2018

  • Three or more malpractice lawsuits filed within 12 months. There were two reports received in 2018. Because the California Bar had a total of three reports (including one from 2017), two were closed with no action and one was closed with non-disciplinary action.
  • Judgment in civil case for fraud, misrepresentation, gross negligent, etc. In 2018, the California Bar received two reports. There were four reports received in 2017. Out of the total number of cases, two were closed with no action and one was closed with non-disciplinary action.
  • Judicial sanctions imposed. In 2017, the California Bar received 123 reports, compared to 113 in 2017. Out of the total number of cases, 107 were closed with no action and six were closed with non-disciplinary action. Six cases were filed with the State Bar Court. Four cases were closed by the State Bar Court with discipline imposed. Because of the backlog at the time, the State Bar Court still had 12 pending matters at the end of 2018.
  • Felony indictment. In 2018, the California Bar received 19 reports of felony indictment, compared to 2017’s 27. Five were closed with no action. Keeping in mind the backlog of the State Bar, 22 were turned over to the State Bar Court. One matter was closed by the State Bar Court with no action and ten were closed with discipline imposed. At the end of 2018, the State Bar Court had a backlog of 43 cases involving a felony indictment.
  • Conviction of felony, or misdemeanor related to the practice of law. In 2018, the California Bar received 33 reports, compared to 32 in 2017. Out of the total number of cases (including an existing backlog), 12 were closed with no action and one was closed with non-disciplinary action. The State Bar Court received 13 cases related to this subject, compared to 21 in 2017. The State Bar Court closed five without any action and 22 with disciplinary action imposed. At the end of the year, the State Bar Court had 23 cases in their backlog related to this type of complaint.
  • Discipline by professional agency or licensing board. The California Bar received 25 complaints for 2018, compared to 2017’s 15 cases. The California Bar closed 18 with no action and closed one with non-disciplinary action. Six cases were filed in the State Bar Court. The State Bar Court closed one with no action and closed 11 with discipline imposed. Because of the backlog, the State Bar Court had nine cases left related to this matter at the end of 2018.
  • Reversal of judgment based on misconduct, gross incompetence, etc. The California Bar received 13 complaints in 2018, compared to 17 in 2017. They closed 12 with no action and two with non-disciplinary action.

Reportable Actions, Reported by Others Summary for 2018

  • Order of contempt. In 2018, the California Bar received three new reports related to this issue, compared to one report in 2017. One case was closed with no action. At the end of 2018, there were three cases remaining in the backlog.
  • Modification or reversal of judgment based on misconduct, etc. The California Bar received 24 reports, compared to 19 in 2017. They closed 21 with no action and closed three with non-disciplinary action. One case was filed in State Bar Court. The State Bar Court closed one case with disciplinary action.
  • Judicial sanctions imposed. In 2018, the California Bar received 84 complaints, compared to 53 in 2017. They also reopened one previous case. Out of the total of open matters, 49 were closed with no action and 15 were closed with non-disciplinary action. Five cases were filed in State Bar Court, compared to 13 from 2017. Out of the total open matters in State Bar Court, 16 were closed with discipline imposed. There were 14 remaining cases at the end of 2018.
  • Overdraft of attorney trust accounts. In 2018, the California Bar received 2,081 complaints, compared to 1,918 in 2017. They also reopened two cases, compared to one in 2017. They closed 1,706 with no action and 144 with non-disciplinary action. The State Bar Court received 117 cases, compared to 53 from 2017. There were 13 closed with no action and 39 closed with discipline imposed. The State bar Court had a backlog of 132 matters.

A Summary of Formal Disciplinary Filings and Outcomes of 2018

The California Bar sent out 533 notices of disciplinary charges, compared to 385 in 2017. There were 229 filings for disbarments, compared to 321 in 2017. The California Bar disbarred 131 lawyers, compared to 158 in 2017.

Related: Suspension: What Does It Really Mean?

The California Bar had 273 suspension matters filed in 2018, compared to 288 in 2017. They suspended 149 lawyers, compared to 153 in 2017. The Bar also had 25 public reprovals, out of which 23 attorneys were publicly reproved. Private reprovals numbered at 17, out of which 15 attorneys received private reprovals.

Stay tuned for our follow-up piece later this week on some proactive things you can do to protect your practice!

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