Stephen J. Strauss, Attorney at Law

State Bar Disicpline Defense Counsel
Because Experience and Integrity Matter

State Bar Defense

Whether you just received a letter of investigation from the State Bar, recently suffered a criminal conviction, are headed to trial, or are just not doing well dealing with the State Bar of California on your own, I can help.  I am a former Senior Litigator for the State Bar of California with 30 years of disciplinary experience. I understand that your reputation and your livelihood are at stake.   

  • Client Complaints to the State Bar
  • Investigations & Inquires
  • Interim Suspensions
  • Admissons & Moral Character Investigations
  • Reinstatements
  • Ethics Advice & Preventative Consultations 
  • Trust Account Problems
  • MCLE Compliance Audits
The State Bar is not your friend.  The sooner I can get between you and the investigator or prosecutor, generally the less damage done. Even where the damage cannot be undone, it can be contained, mitigated, and not allowed to spread.  Often by responding yourself, you close one door but unwittingly open another. 

So You Received a Letter From the State Bar:

If you received a letter from the State Bar you likely feel upset and attacked. Your integrity and moral character have been impuned. You want to set the record straight. Stop right there. Do not respond immediately. Walk away from the accusations for a day. You are too emotionally involved and too close to the facts or personalities to exercise independent professional judgement.

Now consider the following. What you "got' in the mail was not a "complaint" at all. It is not even like a traffic ticket. More than likely, it is just the opinion of one person who is complaining because he or she did not get a satisfactory result.
However, like a criminal, you are now under investigation. 

Ask yourself this question, Who is the complaining witness? Is it a former client, opposing counsel, or an "SBI" ("State Bar Investigation)?

To determine how serious the State Bar initially considers the matter, look at the signature at the bottom of the letter. Directly below the signature, look for the person's title. Is it signed by a complaint analyst or by an investigator? Complaints alleging low-level misconduct initially go to a complaint analyst while more serious matters are generally assigned to investigators. Also consider the size of the letter. Is it a mere single paragraph, or is it a five-page laundry list of specific probing questions seeking specific documents or records?

Next, understand the big picture. The State Bar can impose discipline only for 
violations of the State Bar Act. The standard of evidence is proof by clear and convincing evidence, an intermediate standard falling somewhere between a
preponderance of the evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The discipline procedure begins with the issuance and service of a notice of disciplinary charges.

Only if culpability is found, is evidence taken on the issues of aggravation, mitigation, and the appropriate level of discipline to be imposed. However, usually all that is required is proof of a willful violation. But watch out.  "Wilful" is a term of art at the State Bar. It merely means that the event occurred. It has nothing to do with traditional concepts of intent present in criminal and tort law. Zitney v. State Bar (1966) 64 Cal. 2d 787. Therefore, lack of evil or wrongful intent does not immunize an attorney's conduct from discipline.

Again, like a trespass, there is no "specific intent" required; you simply committed misconduct within the meaning of a rule or statute. If the attorney is found culpable, the question becomes the degree of discipline necessary for the protection of the public and maintenance of high professional standards. The purpose of discipline is not punishment, though many an attorney who has become a "respondent" before the State Bar Court would beg to disagree.

Now take another look at the letter you received. Is the complaining party a client or non-client? While you have a duty to cooperate with the State Bar in its investigation under Business & Professions Code Section 6068(i), you also have a
fiduciary duty to maintain client confidences and secrets under Business & Professions Code Section 6068(e)(1) and Professional Rule of Conduct 3-100. Where the complainant is opposing counsel or the court, your ability to respond
may be constrained by your duty of confidentiality to your non-complaining client.

Finally, think about the history of the case and ask yourself this, "Why now?" What transpired in the past couple of months to cause someone to initiate the complaint? Maybe a client decided you should accept a reduced fee because he didn't recover as much at a mediation as he wanted even though the client agreed to the deal, or opposing counsel is upset over your trial tactics. There is always a reason why the complaint is being made now and more often than not this is the key to resolving the matter.

Occasionally, the State Bar will actually call you on the telephone or send you an email. No, you are not being pranked and this actually happens. Be careful what you say and do not ask the investigator for advice regarding another little matter, unless you want the "little" matter to be included in a more formal investigation. Remember the legendary law
school tale of Ernesto Miranda in Phoenix, Ariz., "Anything you say can and will be used against you..."

Hire experienced State Bar discipline counsel. 

Stephen Strauss
1107 Fair Oaks Ave., #885
South Pasadena, CA 91030-3311
(323) 221-2286

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