State Bar Court Judge Remke Named Head of California FPPC

Judge Remke and Judge Patrice McElroy with Ron George

The Los Angeles Times has the story, although they called her “Jodi” Remke, as did the Sacramento Bee.  But blame it on Moonbeam’s office;  they got it wrong in the press release!

She’ll be a tough act to follow.

Judge Remke took over the Presiding Judgeposition from Ronald Stovitz, who had worked at the State Bar his entire career.  Her path was different; not the law, but politics.  She was one of the first appointments from the former Senate President Pro Tem and uber-Democrat John Burton in 2000 after he masterminded the bill that changed the State Bar Court process to give the political branches a share of the State Bar Court appointments (note that the Cal Bar Journal story from December 2000 also calls her Jodi!?  Update:  it appears that Jodi is a nickname.)  This change was unsuccessfully fought by Stovitz’s predecessor as Presiding Judge, James Obrien (Obrien v. Jones (2000) 23 Cal.4th 40.)  Ronald Stovitz knew the law of disciplinary jurisprudence as well as as anyone ever;  Remke, who had been hired as staff attorney for the Senate Rules Committee by Burton, evidently knew politics pretty well, too, as evidenced by her appointment to the FPPC.

John Burton, de facto boss of the California State Bar at the turn of the century.

As Presiding Judge, she was a political judge.  She was interested in the State Bar Court’s place in the political firmament.  That’s not to say she didn’t know that law;  she was a good as any Review Dept. judge I ever appeared before in questioning counsel about the issues in a particular case.

But she perceived her job as pleasing the California Supreme Court, not getting bound up in the minutiae of jurisprudence. When members of the discipline defense bar met with her in 2010, to discuss the proposed “streamlining” of the State Bar Rules of Procedure, she became irritated when I raised due process concerns about the proposed changes:  “I don’t want to hear about due process!” The meeting itself was a fig leaf; although a couple some of our suggested changes were adopted, it was clear that she wasn’t really interested in what we had say, only to be able to say that we were consulted.  The changes, which eliminated the Civil Discovery Act and the Rules of Evidence from State Bar Court proceedings, were adopted in record time.

Another change that was part of the package was the absurd rule requiring that discipline cases commence trial within 125 days of the date the notice of discipline charges is filed (Rule of Procedure 5.012(a).) This was the beginning of the State Bar’s need for speed and the consequences have been a State Bar Court and discipline prosecutor’s office in a state of marginally controlled chaos for the last few years, especially after the Supreme Court’s action in returning 42 stipulated discipline decisions to the State Bar in 2012.  After that, Jayne Kim’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel became paranoid about settling any case for a level of discipline that might possibly brook criticism as being too lenient.

(Would the Supreme Court ever disapprove a recommendation from the State Bar Court as too harsh?  Unimaginable today, although that happened with regularity until 1992 when the finality rules were adopted.)

Last fall, appearing before the Regulation, Admissions and Discipline Oversight (RADO) Committee of the Board of Trustees, Judge Remke reported commendable progress in making the discipline factory run faster but warned that the increase in the number of cases going to trial, from a historical average of 15% to more than 30%, would impact those all-important numbers.

We were then treated to an interesting dialog at the most recent RADO meeting in Los Angeles when Chief Trial Counsel Kim and Judge Remke debated the the latest proposed changes in the Rules of Procedure, changes asked for by the Court, one change that would actually increase the time allotted a hearing judge to render a decision in a petition for involuntary inactive enrollment petition (Bus. & Prof. Cod section 6007(c).)   These petitions are an expedited, interim remedy and require abundant evidence that the lawyer is currently harming his her clients.    Getting it right is important, of course, because of that old bugaboo, due process (see Conway v. State Bar (1989) 47 Cal.3d 1107.) The Chief Trial Counsel opposed the changes because these petitions are filed where the attorney is deemed an imminent, ongoing threat to the public;  Judge Remke pleaded with RADO to give her beleaguered hearing judges more time to get these decisions right.

Now the Supreme Court will appoint a successor.  Will they appoint a law judge or a political judge?  Will they appoint a Presiding Judge who will speak up for the State Bar Court, the almost forgotten player in the discipline system, who is suffering most from the need for speed? Someone willing to go toe-to-toe with the Chief Trial Counsel and the Executive Director?  Or someone who will go along to get along, no matter how the quality of justice in State Bar Court suffers?

One thing for sure, when it comes to the State Bar, its always something, just like Roseanne Rosannadanna‘s papa said.

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