October 26, 2007
Highlights of the VSB Council Meeting - October 19, 2007
VSB President Howard W. Martin Jr. has appointed task forces that will:
At its regular meeting on October 19, 2007, in Norfolk, the Virginia State Bar Council heard the following significant reports and took the following actions:
Delinquency Collections Almost Doubled
The number of attorneys who miss membership obligation deadlines has remained constant, even though the Supreme Court of Virginia doubled late and reinstatement fees effective this year. They will pay a projected $230,000, VSB Executive Director Thomas A. Edmonds reported. More than 1,481 active, associate, and corporate counsel members were sent notices that threatened administrative suspensions if they did not comply by October 10, 2007.
Studies of Council Size and Disaster Legal Relief Are Underway
- consider whether the size and composition of the VSB Council should be changed. The council currently comprises seventy-eight representatives.
- study a proposed model rule that would allow lawyer volunteers to provide pro bono legal services in another state in which a disaster has occurred.
Rules Change Proposals Approved
The council approved amendments to Part 6, Section IV, Paragraph 13 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The changes address provision of available dates for disciplinary hearings; a clarification that Disciplinary Board sanctions imposed pursuant to an agreed disposition cannot be appealed; and notification of clients when an attorney has been suspended. The proposals will be submitted to the Court for its consideration. The proposed changes can be viewed by going to the VSB home page at www.vsb.org and clicking “Proposed Rule Changes??? in the “Resources??? box.
Increase in CRESPA Bond Proposed
The council approved a proposed amendment to the Consumer Real Estate Settlement Protection Act that would increase from $100,000 to $200,000 the surety bond that lay and attorney settlement agents must carry. The VSB’s Public Protection Task Force recommended the change because real estate prices have increased since the CRESPA statute went into effect twelve years ago. In some cases of attorney defalcation, losses have exceeded the amount of the bond. With the Court’s approval, the proposal will be submitted to the General Assembly. The task force estimates the cost to attorneys would no more than double the current cost of $375 to $500 annually.
Notification Proposal Rejected
The council by a vote of 7–54 rejected a proposal by the Public Protection Task Force that insurance companies be required by statute to notify third-party claimants or judgment creditors when they issue settlement checks to attorneys for the claimants. The task force recommended the proposal as a way to prevent lawyers from forging client endorsements and stealing funds. The measure was opposed by Charles J. Zauzig III, president of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, and other trial lawyers on the council. They contended that notification would interfere with the attorney-client relationship, represent an inappropriate attempt to regulate the insurance industry, and open clients to ex parte manipulation by the companies responsible for paying the claims.
Mandatory Malpractice Insurance Proposals to Be Developed
The council by a vote of 38–21 directed the VSB Special Committee on Lawyer Malpractice Insurance to develop one or more proposals “for mandatory malpractice insurance for Virginia attorneys engaged in private practice drawing clients from the general public.??? The recommended proposal(s) will be considered at a subsequent council meeting. Debate ranged from proponents who contend the burden on attorneys of requiring insurance is outweighed by the public protection needs of their clients to opponents who say that, with about 90 percent of Virginia lawyers reporting that they are insured, the bar doesn’t have a problem. Questions to be resolved by the insurance committee include what will be done with lawyers who are unable to obtain or afford insurance because of past claims or their areas and types of practice.
New Executive Director
Karen A. Gould was unanimously approved as the VSB’s next executive director effective December 1, 2007, subject to approval by the Supreme Court of Virginia. Gould, a Richmond attorney, was president of the bar in 2006–07, and has served as chair of its Disciplinary Board, Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Board, and Budget and Finance Committee. She was recommended unanimously by a fourteen-member search committee chaired by past president Philip V. Anderson.
Outgoing Director Honored
Thomas A. Edmonds, executive director and chief operating officer of the bar for almost nineteen years, was honored by the council. Edmonds will retire effective December 31, 2007. The council recognized Edmonds for many achievements, including implementing the Fastcase legal research system as a VSB membership benefit; modernizing the agency’s computer system; increasing the professional regulation staff to address increased disciplinary caseloads; opening disciplinary hearings to the public and including lay members on all hearing panels; quadrupling the Clients’ Protection Fund and increasing the claim amount paid by the fund; and collaborating with the Supreme Court of Virginia to offer educational programs for lawyers who represent indigent defendants and for solo and small-firm practitioners.