California Bar says 'hack' exposed 1,000s of attorney discipline cases

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A man types on a computer keyboard in front of the displayed cyber code. March 1, 2017.REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

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  • The state bar said information on a quarter of a million confidential cases ended up online
  • Bar officials said they are investigating the matter

(Reuters) - The State Bar of California said confidential data on 260,000 attorney discipline cases was exposed last week on a website that compiles court data from across the country.

Bar leaders said they learned of the exposure—which they referred to as a hack—on Feb. 24, and that the confidential case information had been removed from the website two days later. The state bar is tasked with licensing California attorneys and investigating those accused of wrongdoing.

“We apologize to anyone who is affected by the website’s unlawful display of nonpublic data,” California bar executive director Leah Wilson said in a statement.

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The exposure comes seven months after the bar circulated a draft opinion that protecting client information is especially important in a remote work environment.

It’s unclear how the attorney discipline case information ended up on Judyrecords.com, a free database that purports to include more than 630 million court cases.

The administrator of Judyrecords.com, who is anonymous, posted a series of responses on the site claiming the attorney discipline records were gathered directly from the state bar’s website. Contact information for the site was not immediately available.

The bar said it has enlisted forensic experts and system software vendor Tyler Technologies to investigate how Judyrecords.com obtained information from its case management system.

Under California law, attorney discipline cases are confidential until formal charges are filed. The information on Judyrecords.com included case numbers, file date, case types and names of respondents and complaining witnesses. It did not include full case records, according to the state bar.

The leak is just the latest attorney discipline controversy for the California Bar. Officials last month hired a law firm to investigate the bar’s handling of past complaints against prominent plaintiffs' lawyer Thomas Girardi, who is accused by a rival law firm of using settlement funds meant for the families of victims of the 2018 Lion Air crash to fund a lavish lifestyle. (The bar tightened rules surrounding client trust accounts as a result of the Girardi case.)

In 2019, the bar accidentally disclosed essay topics ahead of a July bar exam to law school deans.

Read more:

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com