California bill requiring lawyers to report colleagues suspected of treason passes state legislature News
David Jiang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
California bill requiring lawyers to report colleagues suspected of treason passes state legislature

The California legislature passed a bill on Wednesday requiring lawyers to notify the state bar if they suspect their peers are partaking in serious criminal activity, including conspiracy, insurrection and treason. Now that Senate Bill 40 (SB 40) has secured approval from both the California State Senate and State Assembly, the decision now rests with Governor Gavin Newsom to either sign or veto the bill.

SB 40 establishes more stringent expectations for lawyers to report professional malfeasance, particularly when such activities could adversely affect clients and cast aspersions on an attorney’s integrity, competence or ethical standing. The bill mandates that attorneys who aware of peers engaging in serious misconduct that jeopardizes a client’s welfare and casts significant doubts about the lawyer’s trustworthiness or capabilities must notify the state bar. Furthermore, the bill requires attorneys to inform the state bar if they know of a colleague participating in acts of treason, sedition, or insurrection against either the State of California or the United States.

Additionally, in June, the California Supreme Court approved a new directive in the California Rules of Professional Conduct, obliging attorneys in the state to report colleagues who participate in criminal acts; fraudulent deeds; misappropriation of assets or behavior marked by dishonesty, deceit or blatant false representations.

To avoid the abuse of this reporting clause, the bill states that any act where a complaint to the state bar is lodged with the aim to intimidate, harass or otherwise deter another attorney from lawfully practicing law is professional misconduct. This clause acts as a shield, preventing the misuse of the reporting facility for personal vendettas or to obstruct legal practice.

In the wake of SB 40, California stands at a pivotal moment in reinforcing ethical standards within its legal sphere. The state has recently seen high-profile cases of misconduct involving attorneys John Eastman and Tom Girardi, which highlight the need for reinforced safeguards and transparency within the legal profession.

John Eastman has been the subject of a controversy stemming from his association with the Trump campaign during the 2020 presidential elections. His legal advice and involvement in efforts to challenge the election results have drawn widespread scrutiny, including a notable role in the events leading up to the January 6th riot at the US Capitol, which some have deemed an insurrection. Eastman is currently facing disbarment proceedings over his involvement in the attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in favor of Trump.

On the other hand, the now-disbarred high-profile California attorney Tom Girardi is embroiled in legal trouble stemming from accusations of misappropriating $3 million in settlement funds destined for the families of those killed in the 2018 Lion Air Flight 610 crash. His case has drawn attention because 130 ethics complaints against Girardi were filed with the state bar between 1982 and January 2021, prior to his 2022 disbarment. Girardi, alongside two of his firm’s associates, is now facing federal criminal charges for his alleged role in siphoning the funds.