By Ian Ross
On August 27, 2021, the State Bar announced in a press release that it appointed George S. Cardona as the new Chief Trial Counsel for the attorney discipline system. The Chief Trial Counsel leads the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) in investigation and disciplinary matters, reviewing approximately 17,500 cases of attorney misconduct and unauthorized practices of law annually. Under the supervision of the Chief Trial Counsel, OCTC conducts investigations, files discipline charges, and prosecutes attorney misconduct in the State Bar Court. OCTC also investigates the unauthorized practice of law complaints, and partners with other government agencies to enforce and prosecute the unauthorized practice of law.
Prior to his appointment as the Chief Trial Counsel, Cardona worked as a prosecutor for 30 years, primarily in the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, where he served from 1991 to 2015 in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. As U.S. Attorney, he managed approximately 250 attorneys in three litigating divisions, led the investigation and litigation of several significant criminal and civil cases, and oversaw issues related to the U.S Attorney Office’s budget and administration. Cardona received his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1986 and has been a lecturer at UCLA School of Law for many years. Cardona was admitted to the State Bar as a licensed attorney in 1988 and served as a member of the State Bar’s Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct from 2015 to 2018.
Cardona’s appointment as Chief Trial Counsel comes at a time when the State Bar’s attorney discipline system is under scrutiny for its mismanagement of former attorney Thomas Girardi. [26:2 CRLR 126–128] An earlier version of the Bar’s Annual Fee Bill, SB 211 (Umberg) (Chapter 211, Statutes of 2021), included a provision that would have removed its ability to collect fees from attorneys it did not appoint a new Chief Trial Counsel. The last time the State Bar appointed a Chief Trial Counsel was in 2017 when it appointed Steven Moawad, however, Moawad later withdrew his nomination in 2018 before the Senate brought his confirmation for a vote. [23:2 CRLR 262]
Cardona started his position as Chief Trial Counsel on October 4, 2021. The Bar submitted his appointment to the California Senate Rules Committee, where the confirmation process is still pending at this writing. If Cardona is confirmed, he will be the first Chief Trial Counsel confirmed by the Senate since 2016.