A group of 11 organizations and individuals, led by Public Citizen Litigation Group, submitted a petition to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California asking it to eliminate its requirement that an attorney seeking admission to that court be an active member of the California State bar. Other petitioners included 10 non-profit organizations representing diverse interests and two attorneys.
The groups argued that the requirement of California State Bar membership should be stricken because, among other reasons, it is unnecessary for competent practice in federal court, where most of the cases involve federal, not state, law. In addition, the requirement is burdensome and expensive, both because it requires out-of-state lawyers to prepare and sit for the state Bar exam and because California’s annual bar dues are $410. The alternative of pro hac vice admission is not an adequate substitute for the option of regular admission, the petition pointed out, because it requires a $310 fee for every case. The rule is especially harmful for organizations that provide pro bono representation in the Northern District of California because they must pay the pro hac fees in every case and must find (and potentially pay attorney fees to) a member of the bar of the court to act as local counsel.
The petitioners were Public Citizen Litigation Group, American Civil Liberties Union, Association of Corporate Counsel, Cato Institute, Center for Constitutional Litigation, Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Class Action Fairness, Consumers for a Responsive Legal System, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Legal Foundation, and Public Justice, along with Robert S. Peck and John Vail. In a brief letter, however, the denied the court petition.