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Re-fingerprinting of CA attorneys: What will it reveal?

Authorities with the State Bar of California obviously harbor some concerns regarding the integrity and past backgrounds of select attorneys. They have sought to address them with a massive program requiring the re-fingerprinting of every actively licensed lawyer practicing across the state.

If you are a lay reader of this blog who has retained a California attorney for legal work or is considering doing so, should that at all concern you? Is it merely an administrative exercise?

“Maybe” and “no,” respectively, are perhaps the best responses that can be succinctly offered to those questions.

Consider this, as noted in a recent article discussing the proposed fingerprint requirement: Bar officials estimate that about 10% of re-fingerprinted lawyers “will have unreported criminal behavior.”

A bit of extrapolation concerning that is revealing. California has about 190,000 active attorneys. If the bar estimate is reasonably close to being accurate, it leads to the rather chilling conclusion that about 19,000 California lawyers have a criminal past that they have sought to cover up until now.

Might you have just hired one of those attorneys?

The above article duly notes that every California lawyer is tasked with disclosing any felony conviction and some misdemeanor convictions to bar authorities, but the requirement alone hardly provides assurance that all offenders comply with that dictate. And there are certainly many instances where unreported behavior short of a conviction exists.

The new “rule” is presently a proposal rather than a mandate. If the California Supreme Court approves it, all active practitioners will need to comply by April 30, 2019.

A practical – and for some unethical attorneys, frightful – outcome of a final fingerprinting rule is that it will trigger the release from the state’s Department of Justice of criminal information on file to the State Bar. For some lawyers, that could spell truly adverse consequences.