California State Bar, in Refusing to Reappoint Scott Drexel, Sends Message to State: We Don't Want Lawyers Disciplined
June 10, 2009
The State Bar of California has sent out a memo: If you want to be the chief lawyer responsible for policing lawyer misconduct, do not actually police misconduct. This is a wink-nod position. Scott Drexel got the memo. From the Daily Journal:
SAN FRANCISCO - The State Bar Board of Governors decided this week not to reappoint Scott Drexel, the head of the bar's prosecution unit who had sparked controversy by tightening rules governing attorneys.
What were some of Mr. Drexel's offenses?
Drexel made waves by introducing a controversial rule to allow for permanent disbarment in the most egregious discipline cases and made it tougher for attorneys to resign with charges pending against them. At Drexel's urging and despite an uproar among attorneys, the State Bar now posts notices of disciplinary charges online.
Why shouldn't notices of disciplinary charges be posted online? The State Bar doesn't publish kooky allegations of every rabid pro se litigant. There must be a finding of misconduct. In California, it's really hard to be found liable for misconduct.
Shouldn't the public know whether a lawyer has behaved unethically? The public, after all, are clients. The public also pays for court houses, judicial salaries, and all the other trapping of law. Why shouldn't the public have a right to know?
Drexel also got into major trouble for prosecuting an unethical prosecutor:
Drexel also raised hackles in the law enforcement community by going after several well-known prosecutors for misconduct, including Santa Clara County prosecutor Benjamin Field. Accused of offenses including withholding exculpatory evidence, which Field's supporters were quick to point out involved cases more than a decade old, Field ended up having his license suspended for four years.
Benjamin Field, quite simply, committed prosecutorial misconduct. He withheld evidence. He broke the law. (News report here.) The judge that heard the evidence of Field's misconduct concluded (pdf):
In this contested disciplinary proceeding, an overzealous deputy district attorney is charged with multiple acts of serious professional misconduct in four criminal matters. Contrary to the ―professional keeping of lawyers, respondent Benjamin T. Field abused his prosecutorial power, concealed relevant and material evidence and violated the constitutional rights of defendants.
That was too much for the State Bar of California to stomach. Scott Drexel actually wanted to hold lawyers accountable for misconduct. He wanted the public to be able to determine whether a lawyer had violated the law. He wanted prosecutors to follow the same laws they enforce. For his audacity, he is out of the job.
The next chief prosecutor for the State Bar of California will get the message. Pound on a few desks. Make a lot of sound and fury. Signify everything; do nothing.