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By: Paige Pembrook
April 30, 2019 marks the initial deadline for California attorneys to comply with California Rules of Court, Rule 9.9.5—the rule that requires attorneys to re-submit fingerprints to the State Bar so the Bar can obtain records regarding attorney arrests and convictions. Attorneys who fail to comply with the re-fingerprinting rule by April 30, 2019 will be subject to monetary penalties. Attorneys who fail to comply with the re-fingerprinting rule by the final deadline of December 1, 2019 will have their licenses suspended.
For the past 30 years the State Bar has not been complying with its statutory mandate to use attorney fingerprinting to obtain information about attorney arrests and convictions from the California Department of Justice (DOJ). Although attorneys were fingerprinted at the time of admission to the State Bar, neither the Bar nor the DOJ retained those fingerprints for purposes of reporting arrests and convictions of admitted attorneys.
Rule 9.9.5 rectified this situation by requiring all active licensed attorneys to be re-fingerprinted by December 1, 2019. The State Bar and DOJ will retain the fingerprints to enable the Bar to receive state and federal criminal record information, including a summary of arrests, criminal charges, and sentencing.
Thus far, the re-fingerprinting rule has revealed that over 2,000 practicing attorneys have previously unreported criminal records, including 20 previously unreported felonies. The 20 previously unreported felonies have been sent to the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel for review and potential disciplinary action.
Regardless of the re-fingerprinting rule, attorneys are required to report criminal convictions to the State Bar under the self-reporting mandate. The State Bar may discipline attorneys for failing to report a conviction to the Bar, for the conviction itself, or for both. The best practice is to self-report any convictions as well as timely comply with the re-fingerprinting rules.
Even attorneys who have no criminal history should be sure to submit their fingerprints by the final December 1, 2019 deadline. Otherwise, such attorneys risk license suspension and exposure to liability for the unauthorized practice of law.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Paige Pembrook at [email protected].