Bar News - May 5, 2006
Board Hears of Unintended Effects of Ethics Bill
At its April 20 meeting, the NHBA Board of Governors voted to assist a group of attorneys that have raised concerns about the impact of SB 206, the executive branch ethics bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Lynch. The law, which takes effect June 2, 2006, among other provisions, broadly requires law firms who have lawyers or employees who conduct lobbying or have interactions with government officials which might have an impact on pending legislation, to report all fees paid to the firm by any client for whom they performed governmental relations work (including fees for any work done by the firm for that client.) Three attorneys, Sherry Young of Rath, Young and Pignatelli; Dana Bisbee, of Pierce Atwood; and Gregory Smith of the McLane firm discussed their concerns with the bill, and asked the Board if it would assist in efforts to have the legislature consider modifications to the bill. Young said there are many circumstances where compliance with this law could put attorneys in jeopardy of violating the Professional Code of Conduct by, in effect, disclosing the representation of a particular client in a matter unrelated to lobbying activity. She said that the bill’s provisions create a “chilling effect” on any contacts by members of a law firm with officials in the executive branch, as almost any discussion on a governmental matter could be broadly construed to relate to pending legislation and could result in an attorney unintentionally invoking the legislation’s fee-reporting requirements for the entire firm.
Although the fee-reporting provision was considered the bill’s most pressing problem because the law takes effect next month, Bisbee said other aspects of the legislation are troublesome. For example, the bill contains restrictions that would limit volunteering or participation on a state board by an attorney in a firm that also conducts lobbying, even if the attorney’s activities are unrelated to the lobbying. Even law firms that have created lobbying subsidiaries will not escape these provisions under the ethics bill’s sweeping language.
In other activity, the Board:
- Created a Public Sector/Public Interest Member Services Task Force. This task force, to be co-chaired by former NHBA President Gregory Robbins and NHBA Secretary Gretchen Witt, will look into how the Bar Association can better serve the needs of members in public law settings.
- Approved a request from the Elder Law, Estate Planning and Probate Section to file an amicus brief in a NH Supreme Court appeal of a decision that upheld a NH DHHS policy regarding eligibility for Medicaid. The Section contends that the HHS policy, which counts income from a special needs trust in determining Medicaid eligibility, conflicts with federal legislation in this area and thus is unenforceable. The Board approved the filing of the brief with the proviso that the pleading reflects the views of the Section and is not an endorsement by the NHBA as a whole or its Board of Governors.
- Split into small groups to continue work on refining goals and identifying activities for the NHBA to pursue to enhance the effectiveness of the Association in meeting the needs of members in the 21st century.
- President-Elect Richard McNamara briefly discussed his goals for next year. McNamara, who takes office as NHBA President at the 2006 Annual Meeting in June, said he has two major goals: promoting the adoption of the NHBA identification card (to be mailed later this summer) as acceptable identification for bypassing routine courthouse security screening, and, as a longer-term goal, improving the public’s perception of lawyers so that the public sees them as facilitating progress rather than being seen as obstacles to progress.
- BOG election information. Although there were no contested races, 883 ballots were received for the annual BOG elections. The prevailing slate of candidates for the 2006-07 Board is:
President-Elect – Eleanor W. Dahar (nominated by Board of Governors)
The following candidates nominated by petition:
Vice President – Ellen L. Arnold
Secretary – Gretchen L. Witt
Treasurer – Robert R. Howard, III
Governor-at-large — Lisa Wellman-Ally
County Governors: Dorcas Gordon (Belknap); Donald Smith (Carroll); Jennifer Parent (Hillsborough North); Kevin Rauseo (Hillsborough South); John Clothier (Strafford); and David Foley (Sullivan).
Russell Hilliard also was elected as ABA Association Delegate.