- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The California state bar pays its executives more than the governor and has failed to present a clear picture of its finances to the Legislature, according to a state audit released Thursday.

The audit is the latest blow to the nation’s largest state bar, which has also been accused of failing to protect the public from bad lawyers and experienced years of infighting.

According to the audit, the bar’s financial reports have contained errors and lacked transparency in recent years, making it difficult for the Legislature to set appropriate attorney dues.

To practice law, attorneys must be members of the bar, a public corporation created by the Legislature. The bar collects yearly dues from attorneys that largely fund its operations.

The salary ranges for the state bar’s 13 top executives exceed the salary of the governor, according to the audit. Gov. Jerry Brown makes a little under $183,000 a year.

The bar could save as much as $428,000 annually if it capped its executive staff salaries below the level of chief operations officer at the highest level allowed for similar state positions, according to the audit.

The audit also says the bar is millions of dollars short in funds needed to pay victims of attorney fraud, so it now takes about 36 months for victims to get paid, up from 18 months.

State Bar Executive Director Elizabeth Parker said the bar’s new leadership team has made significant progress in addressing the audit’s concerns. She cited a plan to include state government executive branch salaries in a study and noted an effort to recover money owed by disciplined attorneys.

“As an agency committed to transparency, accountability, excellence and financial responsibility, we thank the state auditor for its recommendations,” she said in a statement.

State bar trustees selected Parker, former general counsel for the CIA, for the position last year after the bar fired its previous executive director, Joseph Dunn.

Dunn sued the bar in 2014, accusing it of deliberately removing disciplinary files to make its case backlog appear smaller.

Meanwhile, a state audit last year found the state bar reduced the severity of discipline imposed against attorneys, as it tried to settle more than 5,100 backlogged complaints in 2010 and 2011.

Thursday’s audit notes the bar’s management team has undergone significant turnover in the past year and expresses optimism that the bar’s “financial decisions may reflect better judgment.”

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