Thursday, April 02, 2020

Early v. Becerra (Cal. Ct. App. - April 2, 2020)

Here's a neat little lawsuit.

Maybe I should have heard about it before.  Fortunately it gets resolved fairly efficiently (albeit not so speedily).

The issue is whether Xavier Becerra -- California's Attorney General -- is qualified to hold that office.

Mr. Becerra was appointed to that office by former Governor Brown in 2016.  The relevant statute,
Government Code section 12503, says: “No person shall be eligible to the office of Attorney General unless he shall have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.”

Was Mr. Becerra admitted to the Bar for the five years prior to his appointment?  Yes.

Was Mr. Becerra an active member of the Bar for those five years?  No.  He was inactive.

Does that count?

Petitioner says "no," on the theory that if you're not allowed to practice law (which you can't when you're inactive), you're not a lawyer and not "admitted to practice."  But the trial court quickly dismisses the petition, saying that even inactive attorneys count as being "admitted to practice" because they were, after all, admitted.  The Court of Appeal agrees.  End of lawsuit.

Seems like the obviously right result.  I can see policy reasons why you might want someone to be an active attorney.  But this statute does not do that.  As far as I (and the Court of Appeal) read the thing, anyway.  (I can see policy reasons why you might not need them to be active attorneys either, but I think just reading the statute gets us to the right answer regardless.)

There are a lot of things that our Attorney General needs to deal with nowadays; legal disruptions, quarantines, etc.  Here's a tiny little one off his plate.