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News Release

Supreme Court Directs State Bar Court on Notices for Attorney Suspensions

By Merrill Balassone May 19, 2023

The California Supreme Court has directed the State Bar Court of California to abolish its informal practice of not requiring attorneys who have been ordered suspended for 90 days or less to inform their clients, the courts, and adverse parties of the suspension.

The letter, sent by California Supreme Court Clerk and Executive Officer Jorge E. Navarrete to State Bar Court Presiding Judge Richard A. Honn, requires the change be made by Sept. 1. The State Bar Court rules on attorney discipline cases.

Under the California Rules of Court, rule 9.20, attorneys who have been ordered suspended from practicing law may be obligated, among other things, to provide advance notice of the suspension to: their clients; courts where they have matters pending; and to opposing counsel and/or unrepresented adverse parties. According to the court, these obligations are “intended to protect the client as well as the administration of justice.”

The court’s letter noted the rule’s purpose is to let existing clients know in advance that their attorney may not be able to represent them and seek substitute counsel, if needed. Notice to the courts and opposing counsel is also important for several reasons, the letter noted, including: to prevent communication breakdowns; to ensure clients are properly served with critical documents; and for the court to consider protective actions for the client, including knowing where to send important rulings and notices.

“The court has concluded none of the public protection purposes underlying rule 9.20 lessen in importance simply because an attorney is suspended for a period of fewer than 90 days,” the letter said.

Today’s letter follows the court’s recent directives for the State Bar to update its conflict of interest code for the Board of Trustees and to develop new rules requiring candidates for the Board of Trustees and State Bar Court to be screened for potential conflicts of interest.

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