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Bar News - February 17, 2012


Board of Governors: Board Reviews Legislation of Concern to Legal Profession

At its January 19, 2012, meeting, the NHBA Board of Governors voted on advocacy positions on bills selected from a lengthy list of proposed constitutional amendments and legislation that were first vetted by the NHBA Legislation Committee.

John MacIntosh, a Concord attorney and registered lobbyist for the Bar Association, said that more than 1,000 bills were introduced in this legislative session. The Associationís Legislation Committee reviewed 150 to 200 bills and then, following guidelines set by the NH Supreme Courtís Chapman decision on permissible legislative advocacy by the unified bar, recommended 19 opposition positions and one position of support. (See the Barís legislation chart.)

Eyes on the State House

Having addressed the difficult state budget in its last session, the legislature meeting this session is considering a number of policy issues and changes in state laws.

While the NH Bar Association, as a unified bar association, confines its legislative advocacy to "matters which are related directly to the administration of justice; the composition and operation of the courts; the practice of law and the legal profession", the Association tries to provide information to lawmakers and to Association members on the potential consequences of changes in the law.

The NHBA Legislation Committee evaluates proposed legislation and makes recommendations on advocacy positions to the NHBA Board of Governors in compliance with the language in the NH Supreme Courtís Chapman decision and the US Supreme Courtís Keller decision. Also, members in a number of NHBA sections share information on relevant legislation with colleagues. (While individual lawyers are encouraged to provide information and be involved on bills of interest, NHBA Sections, as entities, are not permitted to participate in legislative advocacy unless specifically approved by the NHBA Board of Governors.)

This recent session of the legislature has seen a number of bills impacting on legal practice and court issues; on only a small number does the Board of Governors officially take a position. Visit www.nhbar.org to see the frequently updated chart listing bills the Association is following and on those selected for advocacy positions.

Many bills fail to cross over from one legislative chamber to the other, and it is not possible to adequately or accurately cover the legislatureís work in a monthly publication. Bar members are encouraged to stay informed about the work of the legislature. The March issue of Bar News will spotlight the work of the NHBA Legislation Committee and look more closely at bills of interest to the legal community that are progressing to the crucial cross-over stage. 
 
Kevin Collimore, chair of the Public Protection Fund, appeared at the meeting for two purposes. He presented the annual report of the Public Protection Fund, created by NH Supreme Court Rule 55 to provide a measure of recovery for clients who have lost money due to theft by their attorneys. (The report for the fiscal year ended May 31, 2011, is posted on the PPF Committee page at www.nhbar.org. It also links to Rule 55 for the details on what circumstances qualify for claims to the fund.) The past year, Collimore said, was dominated by activity to provide reimbursement to a large number of clients of suspended attoney Brian McCaffrey. McCaffrey collected fees from hundreds of clients to file bankruptcy petitions for which he did little or no work. The PPF, under a recent amendment to the rule, created an expedited "small claims" process for amounts under $2,500 that has been used to reimburse most of these clients.

Processing these claims represented a quantum leap in activity for the PPF Committee and its staff liaison, NHBA Director of Finance Paula Lewis and Finance Department Assistant Lisha Brosseau. In addition, the committee worked with Portsmouth attorney Philip Pettis, who had been appointed by the Supreme Court to handle the respondent attorneyís files, to identify clients and assist them in receiving funds from the PPF. Pettis apprised the Bar Associationís Lawyer Referral Service and Pro Bono Program of the special need to facilitate client access to legal assistance. It was noted that many NH bankruptcy attorneys stepped up to help wronged clients either at low fees through the Barís Reduced-Fee Program, at no charge on their own, or through the Barís Pro Boo Referral Program.

Another guest speaker at the Board meeting was Laurie Levin, who recently was appointed coordinator of alternative dispute resolution programs for the judicial branch. She reported that a review of a number of dispute resolution initiatives is underway. Several board members expressed concerns in particular about the Rule 170 mediation program in the Superior Court. Levin acknowledged that participation by attorneys in Rule 170 has declined since the program was converted from an "all-volunteer" to a mix of volunteer and paid mediation. Attorneys have complained that the new approach requires the payment of listing fees, training requirements and administrative hurdles that discourage participation. Levin said that as a practicing attorney, and ADR professional but a newcomer to the NH court ranks, she will be able to impartially preside over efforts to re-examine Rule 170 and other ADR programs. The Board of Governors named Bruce Felmly to serve as its representative on a subcommittee that will be examining Rule 170.

Several other discussion items, including NHBA support for wireless access in state courthouses and questions about a pending policy change recommended by the Attorney Discipline Office on when to publish discipline orders on its website will be continued at a future meeting.

In other actions, the Board:
  • Appointed Judith Homan, of Martin, Lord & Osman, to complete the unexpired term of Catherine Broderick as Belknap County Governor.
     
  • Approved publication of Ethics Opinion 2011/12-5 regarding "Outsourcing of Legal/Non-legal Support Services."

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