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The California Supreme Court has approved a new rule of professional conduct, rule 8.3 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, that requires California attorneys to report any lawyer who commits a criminal act, engages in fraud, misappropriates funds or property, or engages in conduct involving “dishonesty, deceit, and reckless or intentional misrepresentations.”

The new “Rule 8.3 Reporting Professional Misconduct” will go into effect August 1, and reads as follows:

– – (a) A lawyer shall, without undue delay, inform the State Bar, or a tribunal* with jurisdiction to investigate or act upon such misconduct, when the lawyer knows* of credible evidence that another lawyer has committed a criminal act or has engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud,* deceit, or reckless or intentional misrepresentation or misappropriation of funds or property that raises a substantial* question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.

– – (b) Except as required by paragraph (a), a lawyer may, but is not required to, report to the State Bar a violation of these Rules or the State Bar Act.

– – (c) For purposes of this rule, “criminal act” as used in paragraph (a) excludes conduct that would be a criminal act in another state, United States territory, or foreign jurisdiction, but would not be a criminal act in California.

– – (d) This rule does not require or authorize disclosure of information gained by a lawyer while participating in a substance use or mental health program, or require disclosure of information protected by Business and Professions Code section 6068, subdivision (e) and rules 1.6 and 1.8.2; mediation confidentiality; the lawyer-client privilege; other applicable privileges; or by other rules or laws, including information that is confidential under Business and Professions Code section 6234.

The new rule has a “Comment” section that follows the rule itself, with ten items of clarification about this new rule. For example, the last of the comments provides the following information:

– – Comment [10) Communications to the State Bar relating to lawyer misconduct are “privileged, and no lawsuit predicated thereon may be instituted against any person.” (Bus. & Prof. Code,§ 6094.) However, lawyers may be subject to criminal penalties for false and malicious reports or complaints filed with the State Bar or be subject to discipline or other penalties by offering false statements or false evidence to a tribunal.* (See rule 3.3(a); Bus. & Prof. Code,§§ 6043.5, subd. (a), 6068, subd. (d).)

The new rule follows several other directives from the court for the State Bar, including on noticing about attorney suspensions; updating its conflict of interest code for the Board of Trustees; and to develop new rules requiring candidates for the Board of Trustees and State Bar Court be screened for potential conflicts of interest.

Much of this new State Bar activity seems to be the aftermath of the scandal following investigations of the organizations mishandling of ethics complaints against attorneys for several decades, including many that were filed against now disgraced plaintiff personal injury lawyer Tom Girardi, once among the most successful and powerful plaintiff’s attorneys in the country.

A redacted version of the corruption probe was publicly released by the State Bar earlier this year. For years, Girardi faced accusations that he’d stolen money from clients and other lawyers. He was forced into bankruptcy in 2021, disbarred in 2022, and was finally indicted by two different federal grand juries, one in California and one in Illinois, on charges of embezzling more than $18 million of his clients’ money.