The head deputy of the Los Angeles County district attorney's Torrance office, James A. Bascue, was named Thursday as the California State Bar's chief trial counsel in charge of strengthening the organization's embattled attorney discipline section.
The position was authorized, and made subject to state Senate approval, in a law authored by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) that forced the Bar to pare its backlog of disciplinary complaints against attorneys by the end of this year.
At the end of April, the backlog of pending cases six months or older stood at 2,439 cases. It was slightly more than 3,000 two years ago when the Legislature began criticizing the Bar for its lethargy and leniency in disciplining lawyers.
Bascue, 47, plans to assume his new duties at the Bar's Los Angeles office June 8. He said he expects approval by the Senate but does not know when confirmation hearings will be scheduled.
"James Bascue is an outstanding prosecutor of the highest integrity," Bar President Orville A. Armstrong said. "The State Bar is extremely fortunate to have recruited such a seasoned lawyer and experienced manager for this critical position."
The discipline section coordinator, Paulette Eaneman Taylor, said that more than 90 candidates were considered for the position since it was authorized more than a year ago. One problem, she said, has been finding anyone with the required experience and qualifications who would give up pension and other benefits to take a new job.
Bascue will retain his county benefits under a contract "loaning" him to the State Bar for an unspecified period that could last several years. The bar will reimburse the county for his salary and benefits. The contract must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
'Cares for His People'
Assistant Dist. Atty. Curt Livesay said Bascue "is an experienced manager who works hard and cares for his people as well as his cases."
Caring for his new people will be a top priority, Bascue said. Several of the 55 discipline prosecutors have quit recently because of low pay, high caseload and sagging morale.
Last year, lawyers in the discipline section waged the first strike against the Bar in history over pay and inability to build a long-term career in the office.
"I am going to try to meet with each employee," Bascue said. "I want to get in and find out what the problems are and to attempt to improve morale."
Taylor said all 15 lawyer positions in the San Francisco office are filled, but 10 of the 40 attorney slots in the Los Angeles office are vacant. The pay scale negotiated to end the strike ranges from $27,780 for a beginning lawyer to $65,820 for one with five years' experience.
Bascue said he also will try to improve the efficiency with which complaints are processed and discipline administered.
"Cases are not being processed as fast as the Legislature and the public have expected," Bascue said, "and there is some concern about the quality."
A report to the Bar Board of Governors in April showed that 8,574 complaints were received in 1986 and 7,791 disposed of. But officials said that streamlined methods this year had produced improvements so that by March, 1,051 complaints were closed, compared to 661 begun, whittling the backlog.
Bascue served as chief deputy district attorney under Robert Philibosian from 1983 to 1985, supervising the implementation of an automation system for the office of 3,000 people in 53 offices.
A member of the district attorney's staff since 1970, when he graduated from University of California, Davis, School of Law, Bascue took a leave of absence in 1974-75 to successfully prosecute several high-ranking Montana officials and attorneys for their involvement in a workman's compensation scheme. From 1977 to 1983, he developed and ran the Los Angeles Hardcore Gang Unit and became a national consultant on prosecuting gang crimes.