Former California Gov. Pete Wilson is setting up a consulting practice at Century City law firm Browne George Ross, leaving downtown’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius shortly after coming onboard during that firm’s takeover of now-defunct Bingham McCutcheon.

Wilson said in a phone call that the decision to move his practice was partially influenced by a personal connection to Browne George Ross: One of the firm’s principals, Eric George, is the son of former California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, whom Wilson appointed to the high court in 1991 and then elevated to chief justice in 1996.

“We were made an attractive offer from the principals at BGR,” Wilson said. “It was a good case made by old friends.”

Wilson will be joined by Sean Walsh, his former deputy chief of staff and spokesman, who moves over from Morgan Lewis. In addition to his service under Wilson, Walsh worked in the press offices of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and was a spokesman for Arnold Schwarzenegger during his time as governor.

Wilson and Walsh form the nexus of the new Wilson Walsh George Ross consulting practice at the firm, which they said would handle regulatory issues for companies as well as a wide range of business disputes, internal compliance issues, in addition to legislative and trial testimony prep.

“It’s an opportunity-rich environment for us right now,” Wilson said. “We’ll serve not just as negotiators with regulators, but also expect to be involved in disputes between private parties and even offer facial challenges to specific legislation.”

Wilson, a Republican, was coy about what particular pieces of legislation the consulting group might try and tackle, but he said overbroad regulations on businesses – particularly small businesses – were an issue in the state.

“I vetoed I don’t know how many bills, and I can tell you there are a large number of laws that need reevaluation or further legislation to overturn,” he said. “As much as I sought to improve the jobs climate as governor, it’s a continuing role.”

What to Due?

The California Legislature adjourned its 2016 session with the usual flurry of bills passing as the Sept. 1 deadline came and went. One bill left unaddressed, however, was a critical fee authorization that allows the State Bar to collect dues from its members – revenue that funds the quasigovernmental organization’s operations.

While State Bar Executive Director Elizabeth Parker has appealed to the California Supreme Court to approve a provisional fee collection, the bar is in limbo, though it does have a $21 million emergency fund that allows it to operate for several months without much disruption.

The funding setback comes as the bar has run into trouble for its failure to adjudicate a huge backlog of complaints filed against attorneys, which are supposed to be handled by the organization’s regulatory wing. An audit earlier this year said that the bar failed to meet this burden and questioned its internal financial controls.

The failure to pass the fee bill came as a result of pushback from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who resisted reform provisions championed by lawmakers. An earlier version of the fee bill, passed 79-0 by the Assembly in June, would have created a commission to study the scandal-plagued organization and see whether the bar’s regulatory functions should be split from its professional organization arm. After some back-and-forth maneuvering with the state Senate, which had members backing Sakauye and the bar, the bill ultimately ended up dead in the Assembly as the session expired.

Parker said in a statement that while she was troubled by the failure to pass a fee bill, she remains resolute in trying to find a solution.

“While I am disappointed that it was not possible for the Legislature to come to an agreement on a fee bill, I am grateful for the important discussions that have taken place,” Parker said. “We look forward to working with both houses of the Legislature and the chief justice as we continue making important improvements to the State Bar’s governance and public protection activities.”

While an emergency funding bill could be passed once the Legislature convenes for the 2017 session, the bar’s best chance for financial relief is its petition to the state Supreme Court. The organization was granted the right to assess a special fee on its members by the court in 1998 after a veto of a similar funding bill.

Legal Landscape

O’Melveny & Myers raised the curtains on its new Century City digs Thursday, unveiling a remodeled office space where many of its entertainment lawyers reside. … Skiermont Derby added two partners to its downtown office, poaching Mieke Malmberg from Century City’s Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro and Hajir Ardebili from Kelley Drye & Warren, also in Century City.

Staff reporter Henry Meier can be reached at hmeier@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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