Rules

§1. Functions
§2. Members and Advisors
§3. Officers
§4. Meetings
§5. Letter Opinions
§6. Formal Opinions
§7. Effect of Opinions
§8. Limitations on Issuance and Publication of Opinions
§9. Revision of Rules of Professional Conduct or Other Laws Governing the Conduct of Attorneys
§10. State Bar Staff

§1. FUNCTIONS

The committee shall assist members of the State Bar in their desire to appreciate and adhere to ethical and professional standards of conduct, which assistance shall include, but is not limited to:

  1. Issuing to members of the bar advisory opinions on the ethical propriety of hypothetical attorney conduct at the request of members of the State Bar or on its own initiative;
  2. Responding to such inquiries from members of the bar; and
  3. Publishing its opinions and responses.

 

The committee shall assist the Board of Governors by studying and recommending additions, amendments to, or repeal of Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar or other laws governing the conduct of attorneys, and perform such other functions as may be assigned to the committee by the board.

The committee shall encourage the establishment of and provide ssistance to local bar association ethics committees.

The committee shall assist the public, including lawyers and judges, to understand the professional obligations of members of the State Bar, which assistance shall include, but is not limited to, sponsoring educational programs and conferences.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979. [The Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (hereinafter "the committee") is the successor to the Committee on Professional Ethics established by resolution of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California adopted September 29, 1964.])

§2. MEMBERS AND ADVISORS

The membership of the committee shall consist of sixteen (16) members (including a chair and vice-chair) and an advisor. Members shall be appointed by the board for a three (3) year term of office. The chair, vice-chair and advisor shall be appointed or reappointed by the Board of Governors for a one (1) year term of office. The advisors shall be selected from former officers of the committee.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolutions, July 1979, July 1988 and March, 1991.)

(Note: In accordance with Board of Governor's Resolution, October 1994, the membership of the committee shall consist of 16 members (including a chair, a vice-chair and an advisor, by the 1996-1997 committee year.)

§3. OFFICERS

The officers of the committee shall be the chair and vice-chair appointed or reappointed by the Board of Governors from the committee.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979 and March, 1991.)

§4. MEETINGS

Committee meetings shall be held in northern and southern California on the call of the chair. Subject to budget constraints, no less than four (4) meetings shall be held annually. A quorum shall consist of seven (7) of the membership of the committee. Any member who fails to attend three (3) consecutive meetings may, in the discretion of the chair, be deemed to have resigned.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)

§5. LETTER OPINIONS

Letter opinions may be issued by the committee. If, in the judgment of the chair, a request for an opinion calls for a response which is simple or routine, or would be best handled on an informal basis, the chair may respond to the request by letter. The letter shall be drafted by the chair or as assigned by the chair. The chair shall mail copies of the draft to all members. If ten (10) days expire after mailing without objection by two or more of the membership, the chair shall sign and mail a letter in the form of the draft to the requesting attorney, which shall constitute the letter opinion of the committee. If there is objection by two (2) or more of the membership, the matter shall be placed on the agenda for discussion at a succeeding meeting of the committee.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)

§6. FORMAL OPINIONS

Formal opinions may be issued by the committee as soon as it is determined that a request warrants a formal opinion, the hypothetical facts shall be distributed to members of the appropriate committee or committees of the Board of Governors, key individuals on the State Bar staff who participate in regulatory activities, the chairpersons of local bar association ethics committees and, in the discretion of the chair, other interested persons or entities, advising them that the hypothetical is under consideration by the committee for a formal opinion and requesting their comments thereon within thirty days or such other period of time as the chair may designate.

Drafts of opinions shall be prepared by a member or members assigned by the chair and circulated to the membership by mail. Opinions shall set forth:

  1. Hypothetical facts of the ethical question presented in a general manner without identification of the requesting attorney or any details of the request which would permit such identification;
  2. The Rules of Professional Conduct or other authorities relied upon;
  3. A discussion; and
  4. A conclusion.

Proposed opinions may be approved only by a majority of the committee, whether at a meeting or by postal ballot, or by telephonic poll, provided that if the draft opinion has not been discussed at a meeting, it will not be approved by telephonic poll or postal ballot if, within ten (10) days after mailing of the ballot, two (2) or more of the membership request discussion at a succeeding meeting of the committee. Any of the membership not responding to a postal ballot within ten (10) days after mailing of the ballot will be deemed to have approved the proposed opinion.

Any of the membership dissenting to any approved opinion shall have the right to have notice of their dissent included with the opinion. Dissenting views may be added to the opinion in the discretion of the chair.

If a majority of the membership of the committee concurs, the chair may designate any formal opinion as a letter opinion, in which event it shall not be published but issued only to the requesting party.

The formal opinion shall be issued to the requesting party and concurrently circulated to members of the Board of Governors' Committee on Admissions & Competence (hereafter "Board Committee"). If within thirty days of circulation, no member of the Board of Governors' Board Committee objects to publication, the formal opinion shall be published as hereinafter provided. If within thirty (30) days of circulation, any member of the Board of Governors' Board Committee does object, the issue of whether the formal opinion shall be published shall be placed on the agenda of the next succeeding meeting of the Board of Governors' Board Committee for decision. Subject to approval as required above, formal opinions or a summarization thereof shall be published in State Bar publications as space is available, and the committee may cause its formal opinion or a summarization thereof to be published in other appropriate publications.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)

§7. EFFECT OF OPINIONS

All opinions issued by the committee express only the judgment of the committee and are advisory only. Each letter and formal opinion shall conclude with the following statement:

This opinion is issued by the Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct of the State Bar of California. It is advisory only. It is not binding upon the courts, the State Bar of California, its Board of Governors, any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities, or any member of the State Bar.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)

§8. LIMITATIONS ON ISSUANCE AND PUBLICATION OF OPINIONS

The committee shall not act on requests for opinions when any of the following circumstances exist:

  1. The requesting attorney is a member of a local bar association which has an ethics committee, provided that the committee may respond to the inquiry if forwarded by a local bar association ethics committee or if the request concerns an ethics problem on which there is a division of views among local bar association ethics opinions.
  2. There is a pending State Bar complaint, investigation, proceeding or litigation concerning the subject of the request.
  3. The request constitutes a complaint against member(s) of the State Bar.
  4. The request involves procedures employed by the bar in processing complaints against members of the State Bar.
  5. The request involves activities, the propriety of which depends principally on a question of law unrelated to legal ethics.
  6. Where it is known that the request involves a situation in litigation or concerns threatened litigation or involves the propriety of sanctions within the purview of the courts, such as contempt.
  7. The chair and vice-chair have jointly determined that it would be inadvisable to respond to the request.

At any time after a request for an opinion has been assigned for drafting, but before actual publication, if any of the circumstances arise pursuant to section 8.a-f above, the committee shall decline to act further on the request and no opinion shall be published.

All letter and formal advisory opinions shall be maintained on file at all State Bar offices and shall be available to any member of the bench or bar upon request. A reasonable charge to defray the costs of reproduction of such opinions and postage may be required.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)

§9. REVISION OF RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OR OTHER LAWS GOVERNING THE CONDUCT OF ATTORNEYS

The committee shall, upon reference of the Board of Governors or its secretary, or on its own initiative with the concurrence of the Board of Governors' Committee, study and submit recommendations to the Board of Governors regarding proposed additions or amendments to or repeal of Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar or other laws governing the conduct of attorneys. In formulating its recommendations to the board, the committee shall cause its proposals to be published and solicit written comments thereon and, as directed by the Board of Governors, conduct public hearings thereon.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)

§10. STATE BAR STAFF

a. The chair shall:

  1. Advise the staff of any failure to act pursuant to section 8 of this article so that staff can advise the requesting attorney.
  2. Cause a copy of all correspondence of and to any committee member or advisor concerning committee work to be provided to staff.
  3. Provide the staff with copies of draft and final letter opinions.
  4. Forward approved formal opinions to the staff for issuance and publication, as appropriate.

b. The staff shall:

  1. Receive requests for opinions from requesting attorneys and references from the Board of Governors or its secretary and transmit them to the chair, vice-chair and the committee where the circumstances require action.
  2. Advise requesting attorneys of the existence, functions and procedures of the committee.
  3. Mail copies of requests for opinions to the members of the committee.
  4. Following receipt of approved formal opinions and draft letter opinions, advise the chair:
    1. Of any circumstances arising during the period in which the request was being processed requiring or warranting committee inaction pursuant to section 8 of this article; and
    2. Of any other reasons militating against issuance of the opinion.
  5. Issue approved formal opinions to the requesting attorney unless the chair withdraws the opinion for committee reconsideration because of staff advice given pursuant to section 8 of this article.
  6. Cause opinions issued by the committee to be published as appropriate.
  7. Maintain all official files and records of the committee and make such files available to interested members of the bench and bar as appropriate.
  8. Assist the committee in performing its functions.

(Source: Board of Governors' Resolution, July 1979.)