Attorney Ethics Counsel

January 14, 2016

California Courts Giveth Pro Hac Vice Admission. . .and Taketh Away

An emerging trend suggests that California courts are becoming more strict in enforcing the technical rules for pro hac vice admission, and more restrictive in granting pro hac vice admissions for non-California attorneys who repeatedly appear here.  The California Bar has long been known as relatively strict about practicing law in California: it has no reciprocity with any other state bar, and the definition of “practicing law” in California can be read to include virtually anything beyond a short flight layover.  Recent examples provide some anecdotal evidence that California courts now are becoming more strict about pro hac vice admissions.

In Golba v. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc., the Fourth District California Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of all but $11,000 out of the requested $210,000 in attorney’s fees and costs in connection with a class action settlement, primarily because neither the lead counsel nor his associate had been admitted pro hac vice in the case.  Lead counsel first applied for pro hac vice admission at the start of the case through local counsel, but the application was denied because he failed to pay the required fee under California Rules of Court 9.40.  Counsel apparently did not notice that the pro hac vice application had been denied, and litigated the case to a class settlement.  He later discovered the denial and applied again, but by that time he had made 12 pro hac vice applications in the prior 11 months, so the court denied the second pro hac vice application on the merits.  His associate who worked on the case, also not admitted in California, had never applied.

In a separate but similar matter, in October, a San Francisco Superior Court judge denied pro hac vice admission to a Boston attorney widely known for plaintiffs’ wage-and-hour class actions because that attorney had been admitted pro hac vice in up to 11 other pending cases.

These examples provide some important reminders about pro hac vice admissions in California.  First, as always, the technical rules matter.  In case you haven’t read the rules recently, check them closely again, and make sure your local counsel knows the rules.  Second, repeated pro hac vice applications, and consistently attempting to handle California cases if you are not admitted here, will be viewed negatively even if everything else is correct.  Third, any non-California attorney in your firm who works on a matter should be admitted pro hac vice, at least if you want to seek fees for that attorney’s time.  Finally, follow through on that pro hac vice application and get the order.

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