A whistleblower protection bill for government attorneys authored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley — whose assembly district includes Santa Monica —was passed by the State Assembly Thursday, January 19th.
Assembly Bill 1612 allows expanded protections for government attorneys who report governmental wrongdoing to law enforcement or legislative oversight committees.
There have been protections for whistleblowers — those who report alleged wrongdoing — on the books for more than 20 years, but these protections do not apply to government attorneys.
“Government attorneys are public servants,” Pavley said. “Government attorneys, like other public employees, should be able to report improper governmental activity without risking the loss of their jobs, their bar license, or both.”
In 2000, an Assembly investigation of a former insurance commissioner showed that government attorneys are not protected under California’s whistleblower laws.
A Department of Insurance attorney who “blew the whistle” on a commissioner risked losing his job and his license to practice law.
The California State Bar investigated and ultimately exonerated the attorney.
However, the State Bar officially expressly limited its decision to the attorney’s case and said the decision does not establish that whistleblower laws protect government attorneys.
Pavley says her bill addresses the issue by clarifying the narrow circumstances under which public sector attorneys can fulfill their obligation to serve the public interest without risking their jobs or licenses.
The League of California Cities, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the Sierra Club support the bill, which now heads to the State Senate Judiciary Committee.