In Barry v. The State Bar of California, the California Courts of Appeal for the Second District decided a unique attorney discipline case arising under the SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16(c). The court declined to award attorney fees to the State Bar of California arising from the proceedings.
The State Bar of California and a California lawyer entered into a stipulated resolution of two disciplinary actions. Later, the lawyer petitioned the California Supreme Court to dismiss the disciplinary charges.
The Supreme Court subsequently denied that petition. Counsel then filed a lawsuit against the State Bar. The State Bar filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court eventually granted, finding that the disciplinary proceedings were privileged under Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16. It also awarded the State Bar attorney fees as the prevailing party under that statute.
In the course of the SLAPP proceeding, the court also concluded that it lacked the authority to adjudicate State Bar disciplinary matters. Using the court’s conclusion as a springboard, counsel argued that the court lacked authority to award attorney fees because it lacked authority concerning the disciplinary proceedings.
The second district reversed the case. The court of appeal concluded that the California Supreme Court has the “expressly reserved, primary, and inherent power” to discipline attorneys in California. The court of appeal also concluded that the State Bar Act expressly excludes superior courts and appellate courts from administering attorney discipline. On that basis, the court of appeal concluded that the trial court did not have the authority to hear the lawyer’s complaint. Accordingly, the court of appeal concluded that an award of attorney fees was also improper.