Friday, May 24, 2019




          The days when oil companies could credibly deny they gouge California drivers in fairly regular cycles should now be over.

          Just three years ago, reports from the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group thoroughly documented how record profits for gasoline refiners like Chevron and Valero coincided with record-high pump prices throughout this state.

          The quarterly profit statements for this spring are not in for the same firms and other, smaller refiners, but it’s almost certain they will once again be near or above past records. That’s because gas pump prices jumped this spring into ranges well above $4 per gallon for unleaded regular, without much visible causation.

          Even after prices subsided slightly in late May and early June, money continued to roll into oil company coffers.

          All this still remains a mystery to some. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state Energy Commission to investigate why California gas prices rose to levels more than $1 dollar a gallon higher than averages elsewhere in America except isolated Hawaii, where oil and gas arrives by ocean-going tankers rather than pipelines. The preliminary conclusion: market manipulation may have played a role. You don’t say.

          Some politicians regularly blame the state’s high gas taxes, which rose almost two years ago by 12 cents per gallon to help pay for highway, environmental and greenhouse-gas-related improvements.

          But that 12 cents doesn’t even begin to account for the far larger differential between California prices and those almost everywhere else.

          Newsom’s complaint somehow makes this seem like a new problem. It’s not, but the fact of a governor investigating is new.

          In fact, two years ago, the state’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee found California has had a “continuous and significant unexplained differential compared to the rest of the country.” Oh, but it’s not unexplained at all. Reality is this is purely the result of price gouging by an industry that has long had California in a difficult spot.

          Never mind that some so-called experts at UC Berkeley have called the entire scene a “mystery,” noting that California’s higher taxes account for no more than 70 percent of its gas price differential.

          Consolidation of the refining industry into essentially three corporate hands – Chevron, Valero and Phillips 66 – has allowed the companies to keep this state’s reserve stocks lower than anywhere else in the lower 48 states.

          As far back as six years ago, Consumer Watchdog reported that the rest of the continental U.S. has about 24 days supply of gasoline on hand at any given time, while California averages between 10 days and 13 days.

          Shorter reserves mean that anytime there’s even a slight glitch, the refiners can claim an impending shortage and raise their prices. A refinery fire that’s put out quickly, with repairs made within a few days, can therefore cause price increases to reverberate for months.

          Said Consumer Watchdog, “It’s happened before and will happen again and again because the California refinery owners can make more money by making less gasoline.”

          How long do these things last? In 2015, a refinery blaze in a Torrance refinery sent prices upward. They never reverted to pre-fire levels, despite reconstruction and repairs.

          Now Newsom has ordered the Energy Commission to investigate possible “inappropriate industry practices.” That’s a very appropriate demand of that commission. The question: Will Newsom let his order be either ignored or procrastinated on, with inaction the result?

          Yes, whenever gas prices skyrocket, the Western States Petroleum Association invariably says it’s a one-off event and that “dynamics of supply and demand are responsible…”

          That last part is certainly true… but it leaves out the fact that the refiners control gasoline supply, while demand is very predictable, seasonal travel habits a major part of the picture.

          At UC Berkeley, they call the extra money collected during gasoline price surges an “unexplained surcharge.”

          But the explanation has been clear for years, even if state authorities are just beginning to realize it: This is the result of oil company manipulation and profiteering.

          One thing California plainly needs: a new law forcing disclosure of all California refiners’ profits, with complete transparency the goal. If the Legislature won’t create such a law, the people should, via a ballot initiative.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          The more elections go by with Californians electing huge Democratic majorities to the state Legislature and no Republicans to statewide offices, the more secure elected Democrats feel. The more secure they feel, it seems, the more taxes they want to impose on the folks who put them in office.

          It’s not enough that California already has among the highest income and sales taxes in America, ranking the state No. 11 among the 50 states in terms of overall tax burden. Only the property tax limits of Proposition 13 keep California away from the top of the list.

          But this year legislative Democrats, who saw one of their number recalled over a smallish 12-cent increase in the gasoline tax imposed two years ago, have sought to charge a slew of new, previously unthinkable taxes.

          Their original list included levies on new tires, sugary soda, firearms, water, prescription painkillers, lawyers’ services, car batteries, estates valued at more than $3.5 million, and oil and natural gas extraction.

          The water tax to ensure clean drinking supplies everywhere is dead, essentially killed by the state’s $21 billion budget surplus. The lawyer tax won’t go far. The list is shrinking fast.00000

          Some of these ideas actually might make sense at times when the state is short of cash. Just not when it’s running a huge budget surplus.

          The causes behind some of these tax proposals are noble enough, but if lawmakers really want funds for the causes they would help, why not use some of those surplus billions? Or is the state’s rainy-day fund, where most of the extra dollars now go, more important than, say, pure drinking water?

          Cleaning up the fouled water now coming from the taps of about 1 million Californians was to be the sole purpose of a new “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund” paid for by a tax on water meters.

          The fee on new tires, already $1.75 per tire, would rise to $3.25 in another proposed increase, the money earmarked for grants to prevent zinc-bearing “rubber crumbs” produced by ground-up old tires from fouling ground water supplies and the air. Excess zinc can create kidney and pancreas damage.

          The soda tax was back this year for its third go-‘round, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica. This one wouldn’t go to a special fund, but is simply intended to discourage kids and others from consuming too much sugary soda, a leading cause of diabetes, tooth decay and obesity. “We have ignored this crisis too long,” Bloom said in introducing his newest levy, which wasn’t immediately specified, but might amount to 2 cents per fluid ounce, or 24 cents per 12-ounce can, or almost $3 per 12-can case.

          The noble causes and good intentions go on almost ad nauseum, but they fly in the face of recent polls, which without exception show California voters believe they are overtaxed.

          If voters become truly fed up with having new levies piled on them, there could be significant results at the ballot box, as demonstrated in the Fullerton-based district of recalled state Sen. Josh Newman, who cast the vote many felt was decisive in passing the gas tax increase.

          The state tax burden is compounded by the Trump administration’s tax “reforms” passed through a Republican-controlled Congress in 2017, which have been fully felt for the first time this year, cutting deductions for items like property taxes and some home mortgage interest.

          Those impacts are felt more strongly in California than anywhere else.

          Only overconfidence and a sense they’ll never lose their jobs over tax increases, no matter how many or how high, can explain politicians continuing to try for new tax increases just as voters are paying more federal taxes and feeling overburdened.

          If there were serious competition for political survival in California, these levies would never be proposed. Which means that if Democrats are miscalculating the depth of their support and security, the spate of proposed new taxes could produce some startling political change next year.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, May 20, 2019




          There is little doubt the “Beat LA” cry often heard when Southern California sports teams play in other parts of America originated in the San Francisco Bay area, probably during a Dodgers-Giants series in September 1982, when a playoff berth was at stake.

          While Los Angeles and the Bay area usually agree politically, new rivalries have arisen in recent years, as the Los Angeles Rams take on the San Francisco 49ers twice a year in professional football and the Golden State Warriors have replaced the Los Angeles Lakers as the world’s premier professional basketball team.

          Now the longtime north-south animosity shows signs of bleeding over into politics. Northern California politicians are avidly pushing supposed solutions to the state’s acknowledged housing crisis against the wishes of many Southern California cities.

          A Democratic San Francisco state senator, Scott Wiener, is behind SB 50, a legislative proposal aiming to radically change the face of much of Southern California by forcing cities and counties to allow unlimited dense high-rise buildings within a quarter-mile of major transit routes and even farther away from light rail stations.

          It was likely no coincidence that a Southern California state senator, Democrat Anthony Portantino of La Canada-Flintridge, using his authority as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, stalled the bill at least until next year.

          Meanwhile, a Berkeley state senator sponsors legislation that would block regions with high real estate prices from imposing new limits on housing construction or decreasing the number of homes allowed in many places where zoning now permits new building. That bill, by Democrat Nancy Skinner, is known as SB 330 and would be effective for 10 years.

          These potential laws could change the face and lifestyle of Southern California far more than points north because cities like San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland are already far denser than most of the south state. Plus, the vast majority of sub-600,000 population counties – exempt from SB 50 – are in Northern California.

          The Bay area also features a more comprehensive mass rail transit system than Southern California, whose Red Line streetcar network of the early 20th Century was bought up and dismantled by a combination of auto, gasoline and tire companies during the late 1940s and 1950s.

          Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California are now staging a multi-billion-dollar mass transit comeback, adding one light rail line after another, but these still fall far short of a comprehensive network.

          That leaves Southern California more dependent on cars than the Bay area. Wiener’s bill assumes that dense building near transit lines will see new residents abandon their cars for public transit. But the transit system in Los Angeles and environs is not nearly wide-ranging enough to allow this. It’s nothing like New York, London, Moscow or Paris, where subways and elevated lines reach within a few blocks of almost anywhere.

          Similarly, the Skinner plan would force local governments in high-priced cities to allow new construction without much new parking, another anti-automobile tactic.

          Gov. Gavin Newsom’s simultaneous push for cities to allow large numbers of new “affordable” housing units has similar flaws. The assumption that residents of smallish new apartments would gladly abandon their individual, independent transportation does not jibe with reality. Statistics show new light rail routes take few cars off Southern California streets and highways.

          The less sprawling nature of current development in Northern California guarantees the biggest impacts of all these housing initiatives would come in the south, where neither Wiener nor Skinner has spent much time.

          Essentially, Northern California politicians are saying their untested ideas should trump what elected officials in the south state know about their cities and counties. They want to nullify zoning laws shaping growth and development in places they don’t know very well.

          If they prevail – and they eventually might, given massive majorities of ultra-liberal Democrats in both houses of the Legislature – two likely results would be even more gridlock and more competition for parking in the most congested parts of California.

          Meanwhile, because “affordable” housing still costs far more in rent or mortgage payments than almost any homeless person can pay, these plans would likely not take more than a few people off the streets.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          For California, there is no doubt the most important case the U.S. Supreme Court will decide this year is the legal challenge to the Trump administration’s plan for adding a citizenship question to next year’s federal Census.

          Political reality is that Donald Trump’s plan, carried out by the Census Bureau answering to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, has become one front in the President’s long campaign to punish California for giving his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton enough votes for a national popular vote victory over Trump.

          He has acted against California wherever he could since then, attempting, among other things, to eliminate the state’s authority to regulate smog and threatening to cut emergency services after major fires and floods.

          But the Census question he wants to add, not asked for 70 years – “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” – is his most insidious anti-California move.

          The Census Bureau long ago abandoned the question for two reasons: One was that the Constitution requires no such query, but just an “enumeration” of the “whole number of free persons” every 10 years. The second was that even with primitive polling methods available in the late 1940s, the bureau determined that asking this question would drive hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people to do whatever they could to avoid being counted.

          The writers of the Constitution weren’t concerned about how many undocumented immigrants were in the country, just how many people.

          They mandated that the Census measure actual population of the entire country and each state and hamlet in it in order to apportion Congressional representation for the next decade. That’s the sole use the Constitution lists for Census information. But over more than two centuries, other laws have required using the same data to dole out federal money for everything from highways and sewers to medical care for indigents.

          In California, federal money funds local government nutrition programs, public schools, highways, housing assistance and much more.

          “We’re talking about a lot of money,” says Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, a former congresswoman. “We’re talking about vital services.” The state Department of Finance concluded California will lose $1,950 for every person not counted.

          This means the amount at stake here could total billions of dollars now used for vital services, if this one question scares even close to 1 million undocumented immigrants away from getting counted. A low count could also cost the state at least one seat in Congress, another outcome Trump would enjoy.

          But Trump’s aides insist the question aims to get valuable information, nothing more.

          That’s a subterfuge, said one court which ruled the query unconstitutional because it would prevent the required accurate enumeration of free people.

          U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel of Maryland, a Barack Obama appointee, concluded the government added the question “to depress the count of immigrant communities of color, thereby decreasing this population’s impact on and benefit from apportioned political power,” and that Ross (and Trump) “engineered the…rationale to cloak (its) true purpose.” Another federal judge held that Ross “made misleading statements” about the reasons for the question.

          Those strong statements can be overruled by the Supreme Court, which fast-tracked the case because of a June 30 deadline for getting Census forms to the Government Printing Office and will rule before its term ends in mid-June.

          One argument the government makes is that a similar question has been asked of some people during the last 70 years, so why not everyone? During that time, the query went only to relatively small groups in an effort to get information about specific population segments. The question, in fact, has never been asked of all Census respondents.

          That’s part of a Census tradition of getting only a few facts from every person surveyed, while using more detailed questionnaires on smaller, but representative, groups.

          The upshot is that if this question survives at the Supreme Court, as appears likely with the court’s political makeup, it could be problematic for everyone in California. And while state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has fervently fought its inclusion, once the court rules, he can do nothing more.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, May 13, 2019




          It was no coincidence when President Trump, only days before the release date of the redacted version of the Mueller report, threatened to dump undocumented immigrants into states and cities with sanctuary laws that protect many of them from deportation.

          Trump, after all, is a master of misdirection. Creating a furor that distracts attention from what could be a major crisis for him and his presidency is a tactic he’s used before and very likely will again.

          But the move he threatened would itself be self-defeating. Yes, Trump  floated the idea of saddling heavily Democratic-voting cities and states, most prominently California, with what he trumpets as an incredible burden.

          “Let’s see how they like it,” he mused. “Let them deal with it.”

          But his reasoning had two big flaws: First, releasing illegal immigrants in one place doesn’t mean they stay there. Studies as early as the 1990s, when California was the first stop for almost half the undocumented immigrants arriving in America, showed barely half of them stayed here.

          Many thousands even 25 years ago used California points as mere way stations en route to jobs and family in other states. The results of that secondary intra-national migration are now clear: Texas currently hosts about 3 million illegals; Georgia has a quarter million, South Carolina an estimated 100,000, Illinois and New York many more than that.

          These are a mix of direct migrants and secondary immigrants who went to those places – mostly Republican-voting states – with no interference from U.S. authorities because there are virtually no impediments to anyone’s movement within America.

          So releasing thousands of illegals now held in federal facilities near the Mexican border into the San Francisco district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as Trump specifically threatened, would have little impact. There is virtually no low-cost housing for them in that district, where rents and home prices are among the highest-priced anywhere. The undocumented could simply hop a city streetcar, and head elsewhere quickly, many catching a bus to other states.

          So much for the Trump threat, which would likely end up putting as many illegals in Republican states as Democratic ones. That’s beside the fact that such dumping is unconstitutional because the move would be intended to force California and its cities into helping enforce federal immigration policy. The U.S. Supreme Court has held at least three times that federal officials cannot coerce states and cities into assisting its enforcement of national policies.

          Then there’s the implied economic threat. This is based on the longstanding contention of anti-illegal immigrant groups that the undocumented create vast financial burdens on locales where they settle, saddling those places with great expenses.

          But a study this spring from the California Budget and Policy Center reported this state’s approximately 2.5 million undocumented immigrants pay at least $3.2 billion per year in income, property, sales and other taxes. While many don’t have Social Security or other tax identification numbers, funds are withheld from their paychecks and property taxes are paid as part of their rent.

          This all comes to an average of about $1,300 per undocumented person living here, adult or child, or more than $5,000 for a family of four. It would be hard to prove that typical illegal immigrants cause more costs than that in using public services. These numbers, of course, do not include things like transit fares or other money paid directly to public agencies like museums and state parks. Nor do they include federal taxes, also withheld from the paychecks of illegals, whose payments into sometimes phony Social Security accounts that will never be used help immensely in propping up that system.

          A new influx of the undocumented would likely produce similar amounts of taxes, per capita.

          So this Trump “threat” turns out to be the tamest of paper tigers. Like much of the President’s bluster, it was not thought through, nor was it subjected to any analysis, merely getting tweeted on a Trumpian whim.

          All of which means it will likely be forgotten soon.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          Local elections held in odd-numbered years in California don’t generally have much meaning outside their immediate communities.

But a June 4 vote scheduled in Los Angeles might be different. This is a yes/no decision on a huge parcel tax proposed by the local school district, the second largest in America. There’s little else on the ballot, just one school board seat and no other major offices.

So nothing should divert voter attention away from the parcel tax vote, and a very light turnout can be expected. A large portion of those who vote may belong to groups standing to benefit from the measure: parents of schoolchildren, members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles union and members of the Service Employees International Union, many of whom work in the schools.

          Which means that even in an odd-year election, when voting is normally dominated by conservative anti-tax forces, this $500 million-a-year plan has a chance to win. If it does, expect more and more school districts around the state to place large parcel taxes on their own odd-year local ballots.

There is little doubt the Los Angeles Unified district, laced with dilapidated buildings, large classes, temporary classrooms, peeling paint and poorly maintained athletic fields, needs more money. But this much?

The district’s board voted last winter to place Measure EE on the local ballot. Most parcel taxes hit each piece of property equally, whether it’s commercial or residential, no matter what is built on any parcel.

That’s about as unfair a tax as exists today, hitting big box stores and tiny homes equally.

But EE is slightly different. It taxes properties according to how many square feet of building they contain. The rate is 16 cents per constructed square foot, but garages will not be included. A typical 1,500-square-foot bungalow would see taxes increase by $240 per year, a substantial sum for many folks whose homes make up most of their wealth.

Meanwhile, a 55,000-square-foot shopping mall would pay $8,800 per year, an oil refinery or a privately-owned sports arena like Staples Center much more.

The school district says all the money will go toward raising teacher salaries, lowering class sizes and providing more resources and aides to teachers. And the actual take could far exceed the half-billion-dollar yearly estimate.

So juicy is this measure that it has even united feuding unions and charter school advocates. The SEIU has put $300,000 into the measure so far, while charter school backer Eli Broad, the B in KB Homes, donated $250,000. Biggest donor is Steve Ballmer, a former Microsoft kingpin who owns the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. His proposed new arena in Inglewood would not be affected by this parcel tax.

          It’s obvious why the Los Angeles district and others prefer parcel taxes these days over other levies: Other local school taxes are shared with Sacramento, much of the funds distributed among the state’s poorest districts; parcel taxes stay home.

          One issue this measure may help solve is whether it takes a simple majority to pass a special-purpose local tax like this one or the two-thirds majority stipulated in Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 initiative that limits property taxes.

          The state Supreme Court implied, but did not actually state, in a ruling two years ago that school tax initiatives might need only a simple majority to pass. That case involved a measure placed on the ballot by voters; this one comes from the school board.

          Battles over the level of support needed for new taxes are now playing in the courts, the outcomes sure to affect votes in many districts soon.

          But all current lawsuits are over initiatives. If this one goes to the state’s high court, likely if it wins more than a majority, but less than two-thirds of the vote, the issue could be settled quickly. Because this is purely a state constitutional issue, the U.S. Supreme Court probably won’t be involved.

          The bottom line: This Los Angeles vote will directly affect only property owners and pupils within one large school district. But the entire state should be watching closely because it has implications everywhere.

     Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

Monday, May 6, 2019




          At first glance, there appears to be no relation between two plagues now affecting California and much of America, the return of measles and a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric, vandalism and violence.

          But a closer look reveals both are based on misinformation transmitted via the internet and social media, which then becomes widely believed. Both also employ scapegoating.

          Neither plague originated in California, or even in America. But Californians and their government can move to stem the spread of both within this state.

          With the measles, there’s a grossly overblown autism claim. Vaccinations, goes the frequently repeated trope, often cause autism. This great exaggeration has lurked in the minds of some non-scientists for many years. Its best-known proponent is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He leads anti-vaxxers who – lacking proof – charge vaccinations increase the incidence of autism, a problem some doctors believe is overdiagnosed. Lacking anything else to blame, some parents make vaccinations the scapegoat.

          So far, there are several dozen cases of measles in California this year, and no deaths. Nationally, more than 700 cases are reported, the most in this century – and the year is still young.

          Lies and scapegoating are also behind the anti-Semitism plague that most recently manifested as murderous gunfire in the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. Some of those lies are perpetrated by a movement seeking a worldwide boycott of everything to do with Israel, the world’s only Jewish country, along with divestment from investments there and sanctions against anything Israeli. It’s called BDS – boycott, divest, sanction.

          This drive is most vocal on college campuses, including Stanford University and UC campuses like Davis and UCLA.

Hotly contested California student government votes for and against pushing university administrations toward BDS show the efficacy of widespread anti-Israel propaganda, which many times bleeds over into outright anti-Semitism. They also show how ill-informed students can be.

          One lie is that Israel is an apartheid state, despite taking in and making full citizens of many thousands of black Ethiopians, not to mention millions of ethnic-Arab Jews expropriated and exiled from several Arab countries at the time of Israel’s founding. Plus, the more than 1 million Arab Palestinians living in Israel have citizenship and full voting rights.

          It was likely no accident that the 19-year-old Poway synagogue shooter was a Cal State student exposed to BDS rhetoric on campus. Just as it was no accident when another white American fired on worshippers in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA last fall after seeing Nazi-like ideas on social media.

          Is it reasonable to expect impressionable young people to disbelieve what they see or read when similar tropes are purveyed in the New York Times, arguably America’s most influential mass medium? Especially when the editors who print them go unpunished despite the newspaper’s apologies?

          When the President of the United States says there were “good people” among white supremacists who chanted “Jews will not replace us” – a slogan based on another lie– during their infamous 2017 Charlottesville demonstration/riot, is it reasonable to expect no one will act on it?

          The notion that Jews seek to replace white Protestant Americans is immediately disproven by the fact that Jews have fought and died in every American war and have lived here as long as anyone other than Native Americans. How can Jews replace white Americans when almost all of them  are themselves white Americans? But here, as elsewhere, when economic times get tough, Jews get blamed. Such scapegoating spans two millennia.

          Of course, anti-Semitism has a far longer, more complex history than anti-vaxx ideology. But anti-vaxxers refusing to inoculate as many as 30 percent of pupils in some schools make California children vulnerable to contagion, where formerly they were not.

Falsehoods like those slandering Jews and vaccinations can only take root among folks willing to believe almost any conspiracy theory about people and things of which they know little.

          Sad reality is that the rhetoric of anti-vaxxers and anti-Semites will never stop. It can only be combatted by education, which means public school curriculum must change or these very contemporary plagues will never end.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          It turns out the weary old joke about how other people can tell when lawyers are lying (when their lips are moving) might be in need of a new punchline: For some lawyers, it’s when they fill out their State Bar Association membership and renewal applications.

          That’s the stunning takeaway from a new California rule requiring lawyers to be fingerprinted not only when they apply for bar membership, but also when they apply for renewal. Just days before the April 30 fingerprinting deadline, 158,000 attorneys had submitted fingerprints, 83 percent of active California lawyers.

          Using those fingerprints, the state Department of Justice and the bar association – licensing and regulatory authority for all California attorneys – turned up 2,699 members who had committed crimes they did not report on their applications, either when first applying or when renewing, or when the crimes were actually committed.

          Of those, 40 were felonies, most before 2005, and 2,659 were misdemeanors. Another 140 FBI records (which include federal offenses from other states and state offenses committed outside California) were still unclear as to whether they involved felonies or misdemeanors. With misdemeanors, attorneys are only required to report those involving “moral turpitude” and ones committed in their practice, or in which clients were victims. The bar doesn’t yet know how many of the unreported crimes fit those categories.

          The upshot: As many as 1.7 percent of all California lawyers apparently tried to hide past crimes. If client recruiting were about equal among all lawyers, that would mean almost two of every 100 Californians seeking legal work on subjects from wills to criminal defense and personal injuries might be hiring a documentable liar.

Said one San Francisco attorney, “This shows what a very good thing it was to put in the new fingerprint rule.”

But so far, the bar association has not suspended or disbarred anyone. Nor has it published names of any member-liars.

          “There’s a process we have to go through, so they’re still practicing law,” said a bar association spokeswoman. “These things have just been transferred to state bar investigators. The entire (fingerprinting) process is new…so we have a backlog.”

          She added that investigators’ emphasis is on serious crimes, especially those committed after the documented liars became lawyers.

          The bar has strong rules about who can join and attorneys can be disbarred for criminal convictions involving moral turpitude or for “other misconduct involving discipline.”

          The lawyer group’s list of crimes demonstrating moral turpitude (defined as “an act of baseness, vileness or depravity…”) includes murder, rape, solicitation to commit assault, perjury, mail fraud, security violations and grand theft.

          Other misconduct warranting discipline includes drunk driving, domestic violence and failure to file federal tax returns.

          Suspension of a lawyer’s license is the “presumed sanction” for felonies not involving moral turpitude, but bar applicants can also be denied for lack of positive moral character. A criminal history is one way to demonstrate this.

          At a spring meeting of the agency’s Regulation and Discipline Committee, a member asked whether lawyers putting off or avoiding fingerprinting are “likely to be the worst offenders.” Bar staff essentially said “maybe.”

          Today’s reality, then, is that while the bar investigates its corps of liars, potential clients cannot know when they’re dealing with one.

          They will only learn lawyers are certified liars or worse after those attorneys are suspended and all appeals exhausted. At that point, suspended or disbarred lawyers must notify all clients in writing.

          One question here is why the preponderance of lawyers who are honest has not yet raised objections to the delay in sanctioning those whose fingerprints reveal them as past criminals, especially felons. When so many active lawyers are known to be miscreants, all lawyers can be suspect, since clients and potential clients can’t tell who’s who.

          One reason may be that lawyers make their livings on the constitutional principle of due process, so many may be reluctant to limit that right for their colleagues.

          Which leaves potential clients at risk of hiring dishonest lawyers for an as-yet undefined period. So far, neither the state bar nor any of its members has offered solutions for this obvious problem. 

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit