California bar association appoints public trust liaison amid attorney oversight criticism News
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California bar association appoints public trust liaison amid attorney oversight criticism

The State Bar of California Monday announced the appointment of the agency’s first-ever Public Trust Liaison. Enrique Zuniga will ensure the bar’s meaningful attention to the complaints of members of the public, applicants for admission, legal consumers, attorneys, and other constituents. Zuniga has worked in other capacities at the bar association for more than a decade, serving as a prosecuting attorney for attorney misconduct cases.

The appointment comes amid increasing criticism over the bar’s lawyer oversight in the form of attorney discipline complaints, racial disparities in disciplinary actions, and low attorney punishment rates. In November 2022, the bar association published a 50-page open letter with information about disciplinary matters involving attorney Thomas V. Girardi. Girardi was the subject of 205 lawyer ethics complaints and was disbarred in June. The bar’s action in handling the case revealed serious failures in its attorney discipline system. Chair of the Board of Trustees Ruben Duran stated:

[W]e want the public to know that we take our statutory mission to protect the public seriously. As articulated in our new strategic plan, our public protection mission is the guiding light for all that we do. Moreover, meaningful change begins with a culture that values transparency and accountability, principles the Board of Trustees and State Bar leadership hold central in our decision-making…

According to the bar, the liaison will act independently, with additional oversight and guidance from the State Bar Board of Trustees Audit Committee. The liaison will also make recommendations to improve the bar association’s attorney discipline program and will report to the bar association’s Board of Trustees.