CCBA-Inspired Rule of Court on Telephonic Appearances Adopted by Judicial Council

The Conference of California Bar Associations (CCBA) added yet another success to an already impressive year Friday (October 25), when the California Judicial Council unanimously approved a CCBA-inspired amendment to the Rules of Court (jc-20131025-itemA12) clarifying and expanding the types of court hearings at which attorneys may appear telephonically. The new amendments to the rules will take effect January 1, 2014.

Specifically the rule changes:

  • Clarify that the hearings, conferences, and proceedings at which a party may appear by telephone include all civil conferences, hearings, and proceedings except those expressly listed as requiring personal appearances;
  • Shorten the time for notice of such appearances from three to two court days, and amend references in the rule regarding timeliness to reflect that change;
  • Add ex parte applications to the types of proceedings at which a party may appear by telephone; and
  • • Clarify that a court should grant leave to appear by telephone on shortened notice if good cause exists.

Assemblymember Wagner

The amended rules are the outgrowth of CCBA Resolution 07-05-2010, developed by CCBA delegate Jason Turner and sponsored by the Orange County Bar Association. That resolution was introduced in the California Legislature in 2012 by Assemblymember Don Wagner, Vice-Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, as AB 1582, which was intended to address serious problems in the implementation of 2007 legislation (AB 500 – Lieu) which had been enacted to increase and provide uniformity in telephonic appearance practices in the state’s courts. AB 1582 would have expanded the list of specific instances – including ex parte hearings – in which telephonic appearances could be made, and clarified other provisions of the law. Most importantly, it would have made clear that telephone appearances are to be permitted unless the judge decides in a specific instance that personal appearance is required.

Jason Turner

Jason Turner

At the request of the Chief Justice and other repres entatives and the judicial branch, Assemblymember Wagner and the sponsoring CCBA agreed not to move forward with AB 1582, and instead to permit the Judicial Council to create a task force (including a CCBA representative) to review the problems and address them through amendment to the Rules of court. The Telephonic Appearances Working Group was organized in July 2012, with representatives from the Judicial Council’s Civil and Small Claims Advisory Committee , the CCBA, Consumer Attorneys of California, California Defense Counsel, California Judges Association, Court Executives Advisory Committee, and Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee.

It is the hope of all concerned that the revised rules will address the concerns about lack of clarify in and inconsistent application of the law relating to telephonic appearances, which produced CCBA Resolution 07-05-2010 in the first place – and will provide the additional benefit of reducing unneeded court appearances and related travel, to the benefit of clients, attorneys, the environment and the courts.

Governor Signs “Lawyer Dream” Bill

Governor Brown has signed into law legislation (AB 1024  by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez) that removes all doubt that undocumented immigrant Dreamers who pass the Bar Exam and meet the same moral character requirements as all other applicants can be admitted to the practice of law in California.

The bill responds to the case of Sergio C. Garcia (In re Sergio C. Garcia on Admission – S202512), the issue of whose admission to the Bar was heard on September 4 by the California Supreme Court.  Specifically, the bill is intended to ensure that California has on the books the law identified in Title 8, Section 1621(d) of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which says that states can provide benefits (defined under subdivision (c) to include professional licenses) to undocumented immigrants if the state has enacted a law “which affirmatively provides for such eligibility.” Many respected entities and individuals, including the State Bar and Attorney General, have argued that California already has such a law and/or that Title 8, Section 1621 doesn’t apply because the California Supreme Court is not an “agency” within the meaning of the statute. But the Supreme Court Justices clearly indicated at the September 4 hearing that they would feel more comfortable if there was a specific law on the books, and the Legislature has complied.

It is uncertain what impact this bill, if signed, would have on Mr. Garcia’s case, since the case has already been argued and the decision is expected before the bill takes effect on 1/1/2014.  It  would have been nice had AB 1024 been an urgency measure, but the measure was created (by stripping the previous contents of AB 1024 and inserting the current language) and approved by the Legislature in only a couple of days before the end of the current legislative year, and few could predict that strong bipartisan support the bill received.  The measure passed the Assembly on a vote of 62-4, with both Democrats and Republicans speaking in favor of the bill and even the opponents saying what a deserving, admirable candidate Mr. Garcia is. The fact that Mr. Garcia was approved for a Green Card in 1996, but will not actually receive it until 2019 (23 years later) under current immigration policy played a major role in helping the Assembly realize the fairness of AB 1024.

Hopefully the enactment will, at minimum, assuage the Justices’ concerns, and possibly convey the Legislature’s intent clearly enough to the Court to permit Mr. Garcia’s admission. If not, this bill clearly will remove any impediment for a subsequent “Dreamer” to achieve his or her ambition of becoming a lawyer in California.

AB 1024 gives to students who have graduated from college, graduated from law school, passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility test, and received a positive moral character determination from the Committee of Bar Examiners – a true challenge under the current circumstances (as are all the aforementioned) – the chance to realize the dream of becoming a lawyer and fighting for justice.