Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The California Bar Journal has the following report:
The State Bar Board of Governors declined last month to reappoint its chief trial counsel, Scott Drexel, but reconfirmed its support of the strong public protection measures that Drexel enforced.
“This was a personnel, not a policy decision,” said bar president-elect Howard Miller. Added Richard Frankel of San Ramon, chair of the board’s discipline committee: “Nobody should read into this that the board is kowtowing to any particular group.” Both Miller and Frankel stressed that the board approved of Drexel’s “aggressive prosecutorial standards” and said they expect the prosecutor’s office to maintain its strong public protection policies.
Deputy Chief Trial Counsel Russell Weiner will serve as interim chief trial counsel until a successor to Drexel is named. The board expects to hire a legal search firm to field candidates for the four-year term of chief trial counsel. The board has asked Weiner to give a report at its meeting this month in Los Angeles outlining policies the discipline unit intends to follow as well as any changes it might wish to make.
Citing confidentiality in personnel decisions, board members declined to say why Drexel was not reappointed. In a letter to the chairs of the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Frankel wrote, “the board is not looking for a change in policy direction and has made clear that it expects the vigorous public protection efforts pursued during Mr. Drexel’s term to continue unchanged … The board expects the chief trial counsel to hold all attorneys in this state fully accountable for their actions regardless of their employment status.”
Drexel proposed a series of measures that toughened the bar’s disciplinary rules during his tenure as chief trial counsel. Although the board adopted those measures, they drew criticism from several quarters. Defense lawyers who represent attorneys charged with misconduct felt Drexel was overzealous and sought punishment harsher than deserved. Several recent high-profile prosecutions of deputy district attorneys from throughout the state also caused unhappiness among county prosecutors, who tried unsuccessfully last year to push legislation to reduce the bar’s disciplinary power.
“In no way was our decision reflective of any political issues whatsoever, whether respondents’ bar, district attorneys or any pending matter,” Frankel said.
Drexel, 60, was appointed chief trial counsel in 2005 by the board of governors and confirmed by the California Senate. He came to the job after 16 years as chief court counsel and administrative officer for the State Bar Court. As chief trial counsel, he oversaw more than 200 employees and a $40 million budget in the bar’s disciplinary enforcement office, which includes the investigation and prosecution of attorneys for professional misconduct.
Drexel said he was disappointed by the board’s decision. “I felt I had done my best both to protect the public and to serve the profession and to implement what I understood to be the expectations of the Supreme Court. I’m proud of what my office accomplished during my term. I would not change anything I did.”