Joseph O'Brien 10 p.m., Sept. 20
State Bar Looking at Shames Again
The State Bar of California is once again looking into legal activities of Michael Shames, co-founder and head of Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN), a utility watchdog. As I reported earlier, the bar recently closed a probe of Shames's activities. Now it is looking again. Shames went inactive as a bar member in 1988, but continued to call himself an attorney in filings before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in books he authored, and on UCAN's website, among several places. An internal UCAN whistleblower complained to the CPUC that Shames was not an attorney. The commission had no problem with that, because people practicing before the commission do not have to be attorneys.
However, a whistleblower found a case in which Shames identified himself as an attorney in filing an amicus brief before the Second Appellate District of California. He was representing UCAN. He and Lee Biddle, a former UCAN attorney, applied for leave to file the brief in December of 2003; their name was on the decision rendered on April 19, 2004. Lee Biddle, now with a San Diego law firm, says, "I can't recall who did most of the work." The court's decision is available online by googling michael shames + amicus + appellate district. However, Shames insists he must have a signed copy to render an opinion and he could not locate it in the files. He says that the UCAN board looked into the matter last March. "I was directly informed that the allegation has no merit," he says.
However, when an attorney files with the bar to become inactive, he or she receives a form reminding the attorney of two state laws: 1. "No person shall practice law in California unless the person is an active member of the State Bar." and 2. "Any person advertising or holding himself or herself out as practicing or entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law who is not an active member of the State Bar, is guilty of a misdemeanor." Shames believes the matter is not an important one.