Did New California State Bar Boss Cheat on Bar Rules?

@THE GUSS REPORT-Did Leah Tamu Wilson (photo above), the new Executive Director of the State Bar of California, spend the first 15 years of her career dodging the Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements she is now paid $267,500 to enforce against all Active status California attorneys? 

Ironically, Wilson, who in her first few days on the job last week pledged much greater transparency at the controversy-stricken, quasi-government agency, won’t say. In fact, she is evading questions at a curious clip. 

I reached out to her as a follow-up to my latest article about false charges filed by the Bar’s Senior Trial Counsel, Kevin B. Taylor, against notorious Los Angeles attorney Wayne Spindler, whose inflammatory behavior at LA-area government meetings has become legendary in and out of legal circles. Taylor, who would not explain how he came to his erroneous conclusions, quickly withdrew his filing when I asked him about them. 

I asked Wilson whether Taylor actually read the case file before signing and filing his false charge. If not, will he be punished? And if he did, how does he explain its blatantly erroneous conclusions?   Wilson refused to reply, further breaking her transparency pledge. 

Wilson, through her communications office, evasively wrote, “We take this matter very seriously. As such, on September 7, the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel submitted a request to withdraw the transmittal of conviction regarding Mr. Spindler.” 

This is precisely the type of secretiveness that caused the Bar so many headaches in recent years, raising the question of whether Wilson has been a part of the problem all along, having previously held the job of the Bar’s Chief Operating Officer after years of apparently manipulating its rules and guidelines to her advantage. 

Wilson, who didn’t get her own California Bar license until several years after graduating from law school at UC Berkeley (the 8th highest ranked law school in the U.S.) has something more curious on her Bar page. 

In the nearly 15 years since obtaining her California law license, Wilson has had four changes of her status from “Active,” in which the license holder can actually practice law, to “Inactive,” during which time they cannot. Wilson, who has never been a practicing attorney, has only been on Active status 15% of the time since getting her license. In her 2010 run for Berkeley’s School Board, she was on Inactive status when she simultaneously claimed she was an attorney professionally. At the time, her actual job was Court Administrator. 

While the State Bar does not require its Executive Director, whose salary is almost $72,000 more than that of the Governor, to be an Active member, Wilson appears to switch to, or stays, Inactive whenever her Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements are on the horizon and Active when it suits her. Case in point: Wilson was on Inactive status from 2009 through mid-2015, when she applied for the Bar’s COO position, got the job, and went back on Inactive status six months later. 

When asked on what dates she completed her past MCLE requirements, which all Active status California attorneys must complete every three years, Wilson and her communications office did not respond. 

Professor Robert Fellmeth, Executive Director of UC San Diego’s School of Law’s Center for Public Interest Law, and an original member of government watchdog “Nader’s Raiders,” who has significant issues with both the Bar and its MCLE requirements, told me, There is no requirement that the (MCLE) courses you take even be connected to your area of practice. There is no assurance of [attorney] competence at all by this regulator [the Bar.] Just an arbitrary cut score on an irrelevant exam to bar 60% of applicants with 7 years of higher education each. It [the Bar] has been operating as an unlawful cartel violating the Sherman Act.”  

In contrast to Wilson, Fellmeth, who earned his law degree from Harvard and was admitted to the California Bar on July 8, 1971, has zero changes to his Active status in 46 years. 

Wilson was also suspended from the Bar in 2013 for failure to pay her dues. While her communications office was eager to explain that it was due to a change of address problem, it stopped responding when I reiterated my other unanswered questions. 

If the public cannot trust, or even get straight answers from the executive in charge of protecting us from rogue and misbehaving attorneys, will the California Supreme Court or Governor Jerry Brown’s office intervene to find out what’s going on here and soon, please?


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.



Tags: Daniel Guss, @The Guss Report, CA Bar Association, Leah Tamu Wilson, Wayne Spindler case, Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements, CA Bar Active and Inactive status