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Last week Nevada’s Supreme Court spared the state’s private practice lawyers from being forced to pay thousands of dollars in annual costs. The court unanimously denied an ill-considered state bar-sponsored rule petition to impose as a condition of licensure a requirement that all lawyers engaged in private practice buy professional liability insurance. The court ruled, “Having considered the petition and the comments from the State Bar and the public, we conclude that the Board of Governors has provided inadequate detail and support demonstrating that the proposed amendment to SCR 79 is appropriate.”

The Court also took particular note of its existing rule that already provides for public disclosure of whether an attorney maintains professional liability insurance.

Interestingly, in preparing its misguided rule change petition Nevada’s Board of Governors relied on data and input provided by an interested stakeholder and current market participant,“its endorsed lawyers’ malpractice insurance company and “the nation’s largest direct writer of lawyers” malpractice insurance.”

The high cost to practice.

As it is, most lawyers voluntarily carry legal malpractice insurance. But it’s one thing to do so by choice and quite another to do so by coercion. Nevada’s high court is to be saluted for its prudence in rejecting the Bar’s proposal, which would have catapulted Nevada into the uppermost ranks of the highest cost to practice jurisdictions in the U.S.

At least, for now, Oregon has the dubious distinction of remaining king of the high cost mountain.

But high cost contenders remain. Mandatory bar association leaders apparently love nothing more than finding new ways to scorch their members with new practice pains and greater financial burdens, especially for those in private practice. Indeed, as of the first of the this year, to keep their tickets to practice Idaho private practice lawyers are now required to submit “proof of current professional liability insurance coverage at the minimum limit of $100,000 per occurrence/$300,000 annual aggregate.”

That resolution passed in Idaho by a scant 51% to 49% vote of bar members. It’s unclear how many Idaho private practice lawyers voted or were even aware of the proposal. I suspect not many. Moreover, had the word gotten out in time as it barely did in Nevada, the outcome might have been much different.

Anecdotally, for example, in July I exchanged emails with a Nevada lawyer also licensed in Idaho. While objecting to the proposed Nevada insurance mandate, he expressed concern should Idaho follow with a similar requirement. He was floored to learn that not only had it already been considered in Idaho — but that even now he was subject to the new rule as of January 1, 2018!

No remedy.

Besides significantly increasing the cost to practice, mandatory professional liability insurance is no remedy for the victims of a lawyer’s intentional acts or omissions and criminal or fraudulent conduct. Why? Because these acts along with numerous others fall under common policy exclusions that too often foreclose relief to claimants. Insurers don’t cover intentional, criminal or fraudulent acts. In addition, mandatory insurance is not designed to protect the public — but to protect the insured. I discussed some of this in my “No lawyer love in Nevada” July blog post.

Finally, Washington lawyers in private practice should remain vigilant lest they be caught unaware like their next door neighbors. Mandatory bars are notorious copy cats. And the folks running the Washington Bar are particularly adept at giving it to their members.

File:Aprilmaze.jpg

For sometime now and as reported here, the Washington Bar has been considering its own legal malpractice insurance mandate. In July, the Association’s Mandatory Malpractice Insurance Task Force issued its interim report.

I doubt Nevada’s failure to afflict its lawyers with compulsory insurance will do much to dissuade the Washington Bar from its hard-nosed agenda.

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Credits: Aprilmaze.jpg, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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Note: These days accountability is in short supply, it always being easier to blame the other guy when something bad happens. This is especially the case when talking about those wielding unalloyed political, financial, legislative, prosecutorial, religious or as the following lays out law enforcement power.

Standing in the way of holding the powerful accountable is the doctrine of “qualified immunity, which, “balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan.

Lawyers, too, can find themselves without remedy when confronted by a version of the doctrine in the disciplinary process. Lawyers accused of ethical violations but subsequently exonerated of wrongdoing hit their own roadblocks to relief via versions of this qualified immunity doctrine or more commonly its big sister, absolute immunity. Many if not all jurisdictions deem all participants in the lawyer disciplinary process “absolutely immune from civil liability.” Rare indeed is the jurisdiction carving out an exception to a bar prosecutor’s claimed immunity.

As borne out by those supporting a challenge to the doctrine that may hopefully be heard next term by the U.S. Supreme Court, qualified immunity has over time simply become a free pass. The principle that ‘no one is above the law’ is treated like a long-past fancy. It’s nigh time, then, for the nation’s highest court to revisit and restore that principle. The following is reblogged verbatim from Cato at Liberty, The Cato Institute under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

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Leading Scholars and Most Diverse Amici Ever Assembled File Briefs Challenging Qualified Immunity

I’ve previously blogged about Allah v. Milling, a case in which a pretrial detainee was kept in extreme solitary confinement for nearly seven months, for no legitimate reason, and subsequently brought a civil-rights lawsuit against the prison officials responsible. Although every single judge in Mr. Allah’s case agreed that these defendants violated his constitutional rights, a split panel of the Second Circuit said they could not be held liable, all because there wasn’t any prior case addressing the “particular practice” used by this prison. Cato filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Allah’s cert petition, which explicitly asks the Supreme Court to reconsider qualified immunity—a judge-made doctrine, at odds with the text and history of Section 1983, which regularly allows public officials to escape accountability for this kind of unlawful misconduct.

I also blogged about how, on June 11th, the Supreme Court called for a response to the cert petition, indicating that the Court has at least some interest in the case. The call for a response also triggered 30 days for additional amicus briefs, and over the last month, Cato has been coordinating the drafting and filing of two such briefs—one on behalf of a group of leading qualified immunity scholars (detailing the many recent academic criticisms of the doctrine), and the other on behalf of an incredibly broad range of fifteen public interest and advocacy groups concerned with civil rights and police accountability.

The interest-group brief is especially noteworthy because it is, to my knowledge, the single most ideologically and professionally diverse amicus brief ever filed in the Supreme Court. The signatories include, for example, the ACLU, the Institute for Justice, the Second Amendment Foundation, Americans for Prosperity (the Koch brothers’ primary advocacy group), the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (composed of current and former law-enforcement professionals), the Alliance Defending Freedom (a religious-liberties advocacy group), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The brief’s “Statement of Interest” section, after identifying and describing all of the individual signatories, concludes as follows:

The above-named amici reflect the growing cross-ideological consensus that this Court’s qualified immunity doctrine under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 misunderstands that statute and its common-law backdrop, denies justice to victims of egregious constitutional violations, and fails to provide accountability for official wrongdoing. This unworkable doctrine has diminished the public’s trust in government institutions, and it is time for this Court to revisit qualified immunity. Amici respectfully request that the Court grant certiorari and restore Section 1983’s key role in ensuring that no one remains above the law.

The primary theme of this brief is that our nation is in the midst of a major accountability crisis. The widespread availability of cell phones has led to large-scale recording, sharing, and viewing of instances of egregious police misconduct, yet more often than not that misconduct goes unpunished. Unsurprisingly, public trust in law enforcement has fallen to record lows. Qualified immunity exacerbates this crisis, because it regularly denies justice to victims whose constitutional rights are violated, and thus reinforces the sad truth that law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable, either criminally or civilly.

Moreover, qualified immunity not only hurts the direct victims of misconduct, but law enforcement professionals as well. Policing is dangerous, difficult work, and officers—most of whom do try to uphold their constitutional obligations—increasingly report that they cannot effectively carry out their responsibilities without the trust of their communities. Surveys of police officers thus show strong support for increased transparency and accountability, especially by holding wrongdoing officers more accountable. Yet continued adherence to qualified immunity ensures that this worthy goal will never be reached.

The Supreme Court is in recess now, and the defendants’ response brief won’t be due until September 10th, so we’re going to have to wait until early October to find out if the Supreme Court will take the case. But the Court, the legal community, and the public at large should now be aware that criminal defense lawyers, trial lawyers, public-interest lawyers of every ideological stripe, criminal-justice reform groups, free-market & limited-government advocates, and law enforcement professionals themselves all agree on at least one thing—qualified immunity is a blight on our legal system, and the time has come to cast off this pernicious, counter-productive doctrine.

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Photo Credit: Hiding, by Kristin Schmit, at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

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In deciding Janus v. AFSCME for Mark Janus today, the U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 5 to 4 overturned Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., 431 U.S. 209 (1977). The ruling was widely expected.

In overruling Abood, the nation’s high court said that Illinois’ extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees like Mark Janus violated the First Amendment. In other words, the Court said that the First Amendment protects public employees from being required to support a private group whose views may differ from theirs. Abood, the Court said, “has proved unworkable.”

For lawyers forced to join and to fund a state’s mandatory bar association this is wonderful news. Abood was the linchpin case upon which mandatory membership bars comprehensively ordered their activities. Today’s Janus ruling breaks one leg off the stool mandatory bars plop down on to straddle lawyer First Amendment rights.

Abood and Keller.

In Abood, the Court ruled unanimously that union shop clauses in public sector collective bargaining agreements could not be used to compel nonunion employees to fund the union’s political or ideological activities to which they objected. The Court, however, also held that nonunion public sector employees could be required to fund union activities related to “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”

Abood was subsequently used to underpin Keller v. State Bar of California, the U.S. Supreme Court case that said mandatory membership bar associations could use compulsory members’ dues only for regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services — not for political or ideological activities.

Nonetheless, ever since Keller was decided, lawyers have objected to the inherent conflict of interest that exists when mandatory bars — in line with the ruling in Abood — are the sole arbiters deciding which of their activities are “germane” to the permissible purposes of lawyer regulation or improving the quality of legal services (chargeable expenditures) and which activities are political or ideological and therefore not germane (non-chargeable expenditures).

In highlighting Abood‘s infirmities, the Court declared “its line between chargeable and nonchargeable expenditures has proved to be impossible to draw with precision.”

But since member non-transparency is their stock in trade, mandatory bars have historically never bothered with such ‘trifles’ — ignoring altogether the line between chargeable and nonchargeable expenses. ‘Germaneness’ analysis? What’s that?

This is why a good case can be made for the inability and the unwillingness of mandatory bars to determine what are chargeable or nonchargeable expenditures. Lawyers, like public sector employees, have similarly faced what the Court termed “a daunting and expensive task if they wish to challenge union chargeability determinations.”

No more opt-out — affirmative consent required.

Prior case-law required notices with “sufficient information to gauge the propriety of the union’s fee.” The reality, however, has been different. The unions, including AFSCME, have failed to provide sufficient information to permit such a determination. Indeed, the Court Opinion included “some examples regarding the Union respondent’s expenditures.” The Court listed “categories of expenses’ and the amount in each category “said to be attributable to chargeable and nonchargeable expenses.”

“How could any nonmember determine whether these numbers are even close to the mark without launching a legal challenge and retaining the services of attorneys and accountants? Indeed, even with such services, it would be a laborious and difficult task to check these figures.” at 41.

Interestingly, these vague, imprecise expenditure declarations frankly bear a strong resemblance to the unhelpful high-level expenditure disclosures provided by mandatory bars such as Nevada and Arizona.

Forget for now the fox assigning herself to count the chickens in the hen-house. Mandatory bars do like hanging their capes on what they say is their members’ ability to object and to request a refund– albeit after-the-fact — of any expenditures objectors believe are political or ideological. If the objection is successful, objecting members can expect at best a nickel ninety-eight refund for their trouble.

And in even in those jurisdictions where lawyers can opt out of a bar’s self-serving penny-ante lobbying expenditure calculation, it still requires lawyers to affirmatively check a box on the dues invoice to get the measly deduction.

Happily for mandatory bar members everywhere, the Court today, also ruled that taking money from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union is a First Amendment violation. Employees must choose, the Court said, to support the union before anything is taken from them. “Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

And while lawyers and their trade associations are not exactly identical to public employees and their unions, there’s nonetheless a long line of cases, including Keller, that have consistently analogized bar associations to union shops. For this reason, mandatory bars were apprehensive about the demise of Abood. Little wonder that 21 former Presidents of the District of Columbia Bar signed an amicus brief asking the Court to leave Abood “undisturbed.”

The ex-bar presidents claimed, “The Abood/Keller line of cases represents a firmly rooted body of law upon which not only states and unions but also integrated bars, File:Aimee Semple McPherson-AngelusTemple Sermon 1923 01.jpgincluding the D.C. Bar, have long relied in structuring their activities. Overruling Abood would have a profoundly destabilizing impact on bars all over the country.”

So expect reverberations at the nation’s mandatory bar associations — whether engendered voluntarily or mandated by external forces.

All that aside, I can scarcely wait for the reaction of mandatory bars across the nation to Janus, especially in jurisdictions with particularly restive members such as Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin.

But expect mandatory bar leaders not to go along quietly or quickly to restructure operations in accord with today’s decision.

Instead, they will pretend it’s business as usual. Abood or not, still others may piously prattle and parse that “Keller-purity” means “Janus-purity,” too.

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Credits: Thumbs up for PYPS, by Alex Luyckx at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Paul gives the thumbs up, by Mikey at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; normal, happy, sad, by David Pacey, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Aimee Semple McPherson. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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What all my criminal defense attorney pals long believed to be true got some supportive press this week along with some empirical backing. Defense lawyers know the criminal system is broken largely because of prosecutorial misconduct and the failure of some courts to act as “the guardian of our constitutional rights.”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4f/M2500_washed_sand_on_conveyor_%286238147930%29.jpg/320px-M2500_washed_sand_on_conveyor_%286238147930%29.jpgIndeed, as one of those defense lawyer friends who’s also a scholar writes, “Prosecutorial misconduct has infected every stage of the criminal process ranging from the initial charging decision through post-conviction proceedings.”

Moreover, in the words of a dissenting jurist, criminal defendants, especially the indigent, are treated like just another fungible item to be shuffled along on a criminal-justice conveyor belt.”

Several days ago, Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project in New York, wrote a scathing op-ed in The New York Times, What Happens When Prosecutors Break the Law?”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/c/click/preview/fldr_2008_11_08/file000521358819.jpg“All too often,” she wrote, the justice system“falls silent when the culprit is a prosecutor, and the victim is an ordinary citizen accused of a crime.”

Relying on a recent case to make the point that misconduct by prosecutors too often goes unpunished, she discusses what happened when Suffolk County, NY homicide prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock was caught violating Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). This is the U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over any materially exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession to defendants. Well, Kurtzrock was caught withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady in multiple cases.

“So what happened to Mr. Kurtzrock?” Morrison asked.

Nothing.

Thirteen months after his public firing, and five murder cases overturned because of his illegal actions, Mr. Kurtzrock hasn’t been charged with a single crime. Not fraud, not tampering with government records, not contempt of court.

And he hasn’t even been suspended from practicing law, much less disbarred. He’s now working as a defense lawyer in private practice. That’s right: he’s making a living representing people accused of crimes, in the same courthouse from which he was (supposedly) banished a year ago. His law firm website even touts his experience as a “former homicide prosecutor.”

The law also makes it virtually impossible for Mr. Kurtzrock’s victims to sue him, with the Supreme Court having declared that individual prosecutors and their offices are “immune” from civil rights lawsuits in all but the rarest of cases.

Nina Morrison’s commentary should be widely read.

Verifiable support.

Empirically speaking, the current Houston Law Review as usefully summarized by the website, The Open File, at TX: In Harris County Capital Cases, Prosecutors Get to Be the Judges,” discusses what they call a “thorough and definitive” essay, “The Problem of ‘Rubber-Stamping’ in State Capital Habeas Proceedings: A Harris County Case Study,” by Jordan Steiker, James Marcus, and Thea Posel.

It’s about “how Harris County criminal court judges act as little more than feckless vessels, used by prosecutors to sign off on whatever version of events the local prosecutors believe will be most helpful to their litigation interests.”

The researchers examined 199 Harris County capital post-conviction cases since 1995 to find that

Harris County post-conviction prosecutors have authored and proposed 21,275 separate findings of fact and conclusions of law and the Harris County courts have adopted 20,261 of the prosecutors’ proposed findings verbatim: an adoption rate of 95%. In fact, judges in Harris County have adopted all of the prosecutors’ findings verbatim in 183 out of 191 sets of findings, or 96%. In the vast majority (167) of those cases, the judges simply signed the state’s proposed document without changing the heading.

[The lawyers, policy advocates, law professors and students at The Open File were galvanized to write about prosecutorial misconduct and system failure by the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case, Connick v. Thompson, a decision that also raised my hackles here.]

But what’s most concerning about the Harris County case study is what The Open File author opined, “More studies like this one ought to be undertaken to uncover these practices in other parts of the nation. It would not surprise us if the percentages of rubber-stamped recommendations in many death penalty jurisdictions rival the Harris County findings.”

And summing up, he declared, “Prosecutors do not need any more power than they already possess. Letting them act simultaneously as judge and prosecutor makes a mockery of due process and our criminal courts.”

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Credits: “washed sand on conveyor,” by Peter Cravens, Wikimedia Commons, creative commons attribution generic license; “justice,” morguefile.com.

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From the random notebook:

Presidential Pardons

The media has done a poor job in my opinion of explaining the Presidential Pardon power. First, it’s not unlimited. Second, it doesn’t extend to state crimes. (I won’t delve into whether or not a president can pardon himself notwithstanding President Trump’s claims that he can — other than to remark it’s open to constitutional interpretation depending on the legal eagle [or beagle] you ask). That said, under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the president has the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the presidential pardon power in ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving an Arkansas attorney who had served in the Confederate Congress and was thereafter refused admission to practice in the Supreme Court because he couldn’t [or wouldn’t] swear a Congressionally mandated loyalty oath. President Andrew Johnson gave Garland “full pardon and amnesty.” The question then became whether the bar admission law passed by Congress infringed on the president’s pardon power.

The Court ruled in Garland’s favor, declaring the president’s pardon power “extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.” Also see “Presidential Pardons – ABA Legal Fact Check – American Bar Association” and “Trump can dodge federal crimes with pardons — but not state law.”

The other Kim.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/95/Kim_Kardashian_2%2C_2012.jpg/164px-Kim_Kardashian_2%2C_2012.jpgWith President Trump pardoning the famous like Jack Johnson; the not-so-famous like conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza; and possibly, the infamous, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, along with other assorted unmentionables the media has repeatedly failed to differentiate that those pardons involve federal crimes not state ones. ‘Blago,’ for instance, was convicted of federal corruption charges and it’s still uncertain whether he gets the nod. The president can’t pardon people convicted of offenses against the states.

So more recently when the other Kim got President Trump’s ear resulting in a sentence commutation for 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson serving life in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction — the failure to clarify reared itself again. Just the same, good for Kim Kardashian West. But in the reality television world I can’t pinch myself awake from, it’s still important to keep the facts clear and straight.

Two more thoughts on mandatory bars.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/c/cyblor/01/l/1357158058o4ylu.jpgWhen fighting for legislative reforms of mandatory bar associations, there’s one bromide favored above all others by those opposed to even the slightest stirring of the legal establishment sacred cow. It’s the bunkum, “Why fix it, if it ain’t broke.”

Up until last week, I hadn’t heard as good a retort as the one favored by the late Ella Brennan. “Miss Ella” who died May 31 at age 92 was the famed New Orleans restaurateur whose crown jewel was Commander’s Palace. I dined there once and have to say it deserved every accolade. In an obituary in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, mention was made of Brennan’s passion for learning, brainstorming and continual improvement encapsulated in what the paper declared was “one of her favorite maxims: ‘If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.'”

The other thought I was struck by recently was a line in cultural and political commentator Jonah Goldberg’s June 1st installment, “Great Oaks Have Deep Roots,” in National Review. Among various topics, Goldberg reflected on the excesses of the Right and Left and “alienation from politics” while deconstructing what he said were public policy ends. The second point of his “three-point plan” resonated with me because it epitomizes what’s wrong generally with mandatory bar elites, particularly those of late running the Nevada State Bar.

“Second, we need a lot less nationalism (for want of a better term),” wrote Goldberg. “What I mean by that is that the federal government and various national elites need to stop thinking that the whole country needs to think and act in one way.” [emphasis added] This state-mandated one way thought and action is precisely what elites at mandatory bars like Nevada’s need to stop doing. Stop thinking that their state’s lawyers need “to think and act in one way.” What’s worse, of course, is that the one way is the one that they ordain.

You won’t find better examples of this holier-than-thou monistic my way-or-the-highway arrogance than in the last two “Messages From The President” in the May 2018 and June 2018 editions of the bar’s uninspiring house organ, Nevada Lawyer.

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It’s been awhile but below are the latest updated FREE CLE listings provided again with the usual disclaimers about content quality, continued availability, and jurisdictional creditworthiness.

FREE CLE

Collecting Responsive ESI from Difficult Places – June 20th, 12:00pm CT

by CloudNine on 5/31/2018

This CLE-approved* webcast will discuss what lawyers need to know about the various sources of ESI today, examples of how those sources of data can be responsive to litigations and investigations, and how lawyers may be able to collect much of this data today using intuitive applications and simple approaches.

Presented by:

William J. Kane, Director of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Nancy Stek, Associate Director of the New Jersey Lawyers and New Jersey Judges Assistance Programs

From Distressed to De-Stressed

Presented by:

William J. Kane, Director of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Nancy Stek, Associate Director of the New Jersey Lawyers and New Jersey Judges Assistance Programs.

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Lexis Nexis University

Blowing Smoke: Managing New Risks in the Workplace

  • Class Type: Virtual Training
  • Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm EDT
  • Dates: 06/15/2018

Blowing Smoke: Managing New Risks in the Workplace

  • Class Type: Virtual Training
  • Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm EDT
  • Dates: 07/13/2018

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Franczek Radelet

Webinar: Responding to Sexual Harassment in Schools

“In light of the #metoo movement and the current news coverage of high profile sexual harassment cases, we addressed the issue of sexual harassment as it applies to elementary and secondary schools. Specifically, we: (i) discussed the general obligation of a school district to respond to harassment claims by employees and students; (ii) offered an overview of state laws regarding sexual harassment policies, including the recently enacted Public Act 554 reported on here; and (iii) provided a checklist of action items schools and school districts should take to ensure they are prepared to properly respond to sexual harassment claims. Download the presentation here and watch the recording here. ”

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Fowler School of Law – Chapman University

“The school of law has certified several webcast archives for “self study” credit. Those webcasts marked with an “MCLE” notation will qualify for non-participatory “self study” MCLE for California attorneys for the amount of credit listed. Each webcast counts as general MCLE and does not count for special credit in any subject matter or required topic unless noted.”
https://www.chapman.edu/law/academic-programs/continuing-education.aspx

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Credits: Trump, by DonkeyHotey at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution License; Kim Kardashian by Eva Rinaldi, Wikimedia Commons, via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License; cow by cyblor, morguefile.com.

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/d/DodgertonSkillhause/03/l/1456878178af2si.jpgSanta Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky was recalled Tuesday. He’s the jurist who faced huge blow-back for sentencing Stanford University student Brock Turner to what many believed a too lenient 6 months rather than as much as 14 years for sexual assault and attempted rape of an unconscious 22-year old woman. In a May interview the judge said he had no regrets over the sentence he gave Turner.

Persky, a judge since 2003, was turned out by the county’s electorate by a vote just under 60%. See “California Voters Remove Judge Aaron Persky.”

It’s been 86 years since a California judge was last recalled. It’s rare. Incumbent judges rarely lose. And so-called merit-selected judges up for retention also almost never lose. Yet given the overreaction of Judge Persky’s defenders, you’d have thought the legal system cratered. That’s because his defenders don’t put much stock on judicial accountability like they do on the sancrosanctity of judicial independence.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/Angry_mob_of_four.jpg/320px-Angry_mob_of_four.jpg

At Flickr by Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons Attribution License

Per one account, “LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and a spokeswoman for Judge Persky, called the recall an attack on judicial independence and said it had “encouraged people to think of judges as no more than politicians.” Conveniently omitted by the judge is that Persky was — after all — an elected public servant ultimately answerable to voters. Meantime, Palo Alto’s newspaper was also over-the-top editorializing that the Persky recall campaign had spawned “a lynch-mob movement that threatens the independence of the judiciary.”

And as for the ‘politicians in robes’ argument, it’s not like legal scholars haven’t argued that judges’ decisions are best explained by their political preferences.

Accountability

So what about the electorate? Are voters’ opinions irrelevant? And when did holding judges accountable become a kind of societal evil? Besides, if a judicial recall is wrong-headed, what other recourse is left to a community in cases like Judge Persky’s? Not even those opining against“recalling judges just because we don’t like their decisions” have good answers. Writing at The Hill lawyer Joel Cohen for one, swats at holding judges accountable, “But to the extent that judicial independence is a core value, we need to find a better way to ensure that decisions by elected state court judges don’t bow to the caprice of the electorate.”

Is there “a better way“? As it is, when judges engage in misconduct or violate professional ethics rules, judicial disciplinary commissions who operate mostly in secret mainly treat such ethics violations with wrist slips administered with kid gloves. An instance of one such wrist slap was the complaint of several years ago by the president of Houston’s defense bar association over the punishment meted out by the state commission on judicial conduct to former Judge Woody Denson. “Nothing ever happens, no one is ever disciplined and there’s no accountability back to anyone for anything,” he protested also adding “And it’s very secretive if anything ever does happen.”

It’s not just a Texas problem either. In 2015, St. Louis Public Radio ran a story about the alleged ineffectiveness of Missouri’s judicial watchdogs, “Missouri’s code of conduct for judges rarely leads to disciplinary action.” According to the report, “About 240 complaints are made against judges in the state of Missouri each year. When complaints are filed—and they can be, by citizens, city officials and other judges–they rarely result in disciplinary action.” Quoting St. Louis University Law professor Brendan Roediger, “The process is very secretive. Sometimes there were rumors around courthouses but that was about it.”

And according to a USA Today report, “Troubling trend: When judges need disciplining.“The Center for Judicial Ethics at the National Center for State Courts serves as a clearinghouse for judicial discipline and tracks misdeeds nationwide. Their records show that removing a judge from the bench is rare. In 2013, only five judges were removed from the bench nationwide, and 17 resigned or retired in lieu of removal. Also see Wisconsin’s Post-Current investigation, “Judges never evaluated, rarely challenged” and “Disciplinary Panel Rarely Takes Action Against Idaho Judges.”

Wikimedia Commons, public domain

To be clear, Judge Persky did not violate any canons of judicial ethics in People v Turner.  Moreover, the state commission on judicial performance concluded in its 12-page report “that there is not clear and convincing evidence of bias, abuse of authority, or other basis to conclude that Judge Persky engaged in judicial misconduct warranting discipline.”

Just the same, those campaigning against Judge Persky took exception calling the report:

a one-sided, closed-door proceeding that resulted in an error-ridden report (the “Persky Report”) by an agency with a long history of protecting judges. The Commission only imposes discipline in approximately 3% of cases, even though one study showed that similar states impose discipline at three to four times that rate. At the same time, the Commission refuses to provide any information about why it disciplines judges at such a low rate. In 2016, the Commission sued to block the State Auditor from completing a performance review ordered by the state legislature. As a result of this lack of transparency and oversight, the respected Center for Public Integrity recently gave California an “F” for judicial accountability in a detailed state study.

Recall proponents justified their campaign because, “It’s clear we need judges who understand sexual assault and violence against women and take it seriously. It’s up to us, the voters, to make a difference.”

In other words, when elected officials are found wanting and oversight watchdogs are napping under a tree, it’s left to the people to act as a final check. Long ago in his 1801 letter to Benjamin Waring Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The will of the people. . . is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”

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Note: The following is re-blogged with the express permission of author, noted family law specialist, and Nevada attorney, Marshal S. Willick. It was originally posted May 25, 2018 as Volume 66 of the Willick Law Group‘s Newsletter.

Willick’s insights and prescriptions are timely, persuasive and on-the-mark. Among his key recommendations is that the Nevada Supreme Court “assess the efficacy and impacts of mandatory CLE.” His commentary is definitely must reading.

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Vol. 66 – The New CLE Fee Structure Stinks and Should Be Changed

A legal note from Marshal Willick about how Nevada’s CLE system has been made destructive to both education and scholarship while increasing dramatically in cost, and why only the Nevada Supreme Court – which ultimately is responsible for this mess – can do anything about solving it.

The cost of CLE in Nevada just increased by an order of magnitude while the number and variety of available offerings has been greatly curtailed, and scholarship is being actively punished.

I. WHAT CHANGED AND WHY

The Nevada Board of Continuing Legal Education was created in 1982; it is distinct from – but intertwined with – the Nevada Bar Board of Governors (“BOG”). In 2014, in a “turf” squabble, the CLE Board asked the Supreme Court to reduce the number of CLE Board members appointed by the BOG since the Bar was a “provider” and the CLE Board complained of a conflict of interest.

The CLE Board declared that to do its job, it had to be a “stand-alone” entity that was “financially self-sustaining” so as to “avoid or eliminate conflicts of interest.” It complained that the number of lawyers and fees only “grows slowly” but the Board’s “profitability erodes as operating expenses [primarily its own salaries and benefits] increase over time.” It complained that in 2014, the CLE Board expended $15,000 more than it received from fees, while quietly noting a “reserve” from prior fees received of over $600,000.

So the CLE Board submitted ADKT 499 to change its “business plan” from reliance on annual attorney CLE fees (and late fees), claiming (at the beginning, anyway) its intent to get the “hugely profitable” CLE providers to start funding the cost of mandatory CLE to “reduce or eliminate fees for the lawyers.” It apparently never occurred to the CLE Board to explain why it should seek to be “profitable.”

The new plan was supposed to replace lawyer CLE fees by imposing on “accredited” CLE providers an annual fee of $500 plus $5 for each credit hour earned by every attendee, with another $5 per credit to be paid by each lawyer. For “non-accredited” providers, the new business plan charged a $25 “application fee” per program plus $5 per credit hour per attorney to be paid by the CLE provider, with another $5 per credit to be paid by each lawyer.

Begrudgingly, the fees would not apply to providers “that are non-profit and do not charge attorneys for attending their programs,” or to “Federal, State, and local governmental agencies, nor for legal aid, provided they do not charge attorneys.”

The CLE Board predicted that the change would improve CLE in Nevada because “higher quality providers will accept new fees to continue operating in Nevada, while others will exit the State.” No explanation was suggested as to what denoted “quality” or how that had anything to do with being large for-profit enterprises.

The CLE Board also promised to increase efficiency and economy through use of electronic communications to replace paper, to streamline its processes, and to save staff time by ceasing to “cajole” or “hand-hold” lawyers and instead greatly increase financial penalties imposed against lawyers for non-compliance, predicting that doing so would actually decrease the total of those fees by increasing lawyer compliance.

The Bar opposed the reorganization and parts of the new CLE “business plan,” but agreed to collect the annual CLE fees along with annual Bar dues so that fewer lawyers would be confused and end up having to pay the very expensive “late fee” penalty that constituted 40% of the funding of the CLE Board.

After public comment, a hearing, and several rounds of written input, mainly from the BOG and other bar associations, the Supreme Court approved both the reorganization and the new business plan.

II. THE REAL WORLD AND CONSEQUENCES, INTENDED AND OTHERWISE

Many Nevada lawyers have complained about the CLE “industry” for years, noting that it was already much too expensive, and that for many lawyers it was a totally hollow exercise which generated money for both the Bar and the CLE Board but had no discernable effect on actually improving lawyer competence.

For example, see Legal Notes Vol. 33, “Make Lawyer CLE Meaningful” (Jan. 2011); Vol. 36, “Judicial CLE” (Mar. 2011); Vol. 40, “Other Updates to Prior Notes” (Jun. 2011), and Vol. 54, “Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Cheap & Useful CLE” (Oct. 2012), all posted at https://www.willicklawgroup.com/newsletters/.

Those notes stepped through the history of CLE in Nevada, detailing how it had devolved from the aspiration of promoting lawyer competence into the meaningless extraction of funds to fund the CLE bureaucracy, and how both the Bar and the CLE Board had ignored the obvious reforms that would make it actually useful to the public.

We detailed the huge sums involuntarily extracted from lawyers and being fed to the Bar, to the CLE Board, and to private companies, and protested that since all known studies showed no actual improvement to lawyer competency from mandatory CLE, what Nevada had created was a time-and-money-consuming bureaucracy that falsely portrayed itself as providing a service important to the public, but which actually did not make lawyers better or provide the public any useful information, and so did no actual good.

We explained how my firm was going to try to encourage reform by producing and presenting substantive and specialized CLE at no cost to attendees for the purpose of trying to improve the practice and drive down the fees charged by others.

And we expressed the hope that if that approach was emulated by a sufficient number of others, enough of the profit motive could be taken out of the CLE racket to cause the CLE bureaucracy to focus on actually serving the legitimate interests of lawyers, public, and the courts.

Over the following six years, we produced low-to-no cost CLEs on a wide variety of family law topics, with any money beyond the cost of snacks going to Legal Aid. The “Basics” series (Jurisdiction, Child Custody, Relocation, Property Division, and Practical Mechanics of Family Trial Practice) was acclaimed by those attending, as was the 1-hour Lunch-and-Learn series addressing topics from pension division to the new local rules.

And others did emulate that model – experts throughout the Bar started putting on programs at no cost in their various specialty areas, significantly enhancing the actual education of lawyers in multiple fields.

But this did not generate any money for the CLE bureaucracy, which reacted like a bureaucracy does, seeking its own perpetuation and expansion at the expense of those it purports to serve.

So now, if you want to give away your time, experience, and expertise for the benefit of others, you are required to submit a $25 “application” fee and pay another $5 for every credit that every attendee receives. In other words, for the privilege of volunteering to do all the work to provide a one-hour CLE for 30 people, you have to pay the CLE Board $175. If 100 people happen to show up, it will cost you $525. Lord help you if 1,000 people want to hear what you have to teach.

Who is exempted from paying these fees? The Bar, its sections, and specialty Bars, but only if all proceeds go to legal aid, or to TIP mentors, or the credits offered are 1.5 hours or less. Or if the provider is the government, or a non-profit agency. Otherwise, too bad. The full set of “how we intend to take more money from you” regulations is set out at https://www.nvcleboard.org/formsinformation.asp#.

And this was by no means accidental. The CLE Board, in the debate leading up to adoption of the new regulations, stated in its submissions that it fully intended to cause the “exit of low volume non-accredited providers.” In other words, prevent lawyers from teaching other lawyers for free.

The CLE Board brushed aside the fact that large for-profit providers would obviously pass along to their captive lawyer market the increased fees and costs and that the lawyers would end up paying a lot more every year, saying “Overall, the Board expects no more than a modest effect on provider pricing, as anecdotal input suggests.”

In other words, the CLE Board very deliberately wanted to destroy the ability of lawyers to provide free CLE, because it was not good for the bureaucracy’s income growth, actual damage to the education of members of the Bar be damned. And they knew all along that their new plan would not “reduce fees” to lawyers but would instead greatly increase them, and they didn’t care about that, either.

III. YOU EVEN HAVE TO PAY THEM TO PAY SOMEONE ELSE

The regulations are unclear on the point, but apparently you have to pay the CLE Board if you actually want to obtain specialized education and training in your field.

A divorce lawyer gets the highest-possible quality of education from programs put on by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. But if you go to the 3-day annual CLE in Chicago – paying to travel there, to register, and to stay out of town for three days – you apparently also have to pay the CLE Board $5.00 for every credit you already paid to get.

So the AAML annual meeting, with its 10.5 hours of general and ethics credit, will cost every attendee another $52.50. Every year. On top of the cost of anything earned in Nevada (you have to pay $5 for most credits earned here, too).

The system has been altered so that the more any lawyer seeks out specialized training and education to actually be better, the more expensive it will be. Low-quality, irrelevant, and outdated CLE can be found which is cheap, but of course signing up for such won’t actually make any lawyer any more competent. The incentives are backward.

IV. THE DELIBERATE DISCOURAGEMENT OF SCHOLARSHIP AND PUBLICATION

Every major legal publication in Nevada works hard to attract quality substantive articles – The Nevada Family Law Report, the Nevada Lawyer, the Clark County Communique, the Washoe County Writ, etc.

One of the few tangible benefits for spending the dozens of hours of research, writing, and editing it takes to create such articles has always been the ability to obtain CLE credit for helping to teach other members of the Bar through such publications.

Now, it will also cost you. Regulation 9 of the new CLE rules imposes a $25 fee to get credit for writing scholarly articles – so if you volunteer your time and expertise to help educate the Bar by writing an article for the NFLR or Nevada Lawyer, you have to pay for that, too.

It is hard to imagine a way to more actively discourage lawyers from volunteering their time and expertise to write scholarly articles. And this thought apparently did not even cross the mind of anyone involved in adoption of the new rules – it appears nowhere in the written record of ADKT 499.

V. THE NEW POLICY IS WRONG AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

The “mission statement” of the CLE Board is to ensure that Nevada lawyers “continue their education through a wide range of quality educational programs and to have and maintain the requisite knowledge and skills to fulfill their professional responsibilities.”

But every aspect of the new model discourages providing quality education or scholarship, and decreases what is available to Nevada lawyers who want to actually improve their knowledge and skills. Costs are increased for every lawyer, and the more a lawyer actually cares about getting the best possible education and training, the more it will cost that lawyer.

Every impact of the new plan is directly antithetical to the CLE Board’s supposed reason for existing – but it does feed more money to its bureaucracy. The priorities for those involved in the discussion seem crystal clear.

It is not as if the Supreme Court has not previously been presented with budget impacts related to CLE. In 2016, the Court approved an expansion of CLE from 12 to 13 hours annually, so that every lawyer, every year, had to get a credit related to substance abuse and mental health. We were already the fifth most-expensive-to-remain-in-practice Bar before that change.

Justice Pickering dissented from the addition, noting the minimum $1 million in cost/lost productivity that change would cost, and the entire lack of any empirical evidence that it would actually do any good.

It seems likely that with that new “business plan” being adopted, the CLE Board will make Nevada number one – in cost to remain in practice on zero evidence of any actual benefit to the bench, Bar, or public. Hooray.

VI. RESPONSES BY THE BAR AND SECTION LEADERSHIP HAVE BEEN INADEQUATE

Essentially every entity that participated in the debate over ADKT 499 was solely interested in looking out for its own budget and programs, with scant attention or concern for the lawyers who would end up paying the freight (or their clients, on whom the increased cost of the lawyers remaining in practice ultimately descends). Each entity was focused on trying to secure exemptions from the new fees – for itself.

The State Bar submissions at least claimed to be concerned for the general Bar membership – in addition to the Bar’s own fees and programs, of course – but with all the numbers thrown out during the debate for over two years, no one involved apparently took the time to project what the new policy would actually cost each individual lawyer.

More than anything else, the written submissions looked like Russell Long’s famous summary of input to how tax policy is made in Washington:

Don’t tax you,
Don’t tax me,
Tax that fellow behind the tree.
(William B. Mead, “Congress Tackles the Income Tax” (Money, July, 1973)).

As with the debacle that is e-filing in Clark County, which has been extensively detailed in these notes, it has apparently never occurred to anyone involved that the proper response to increased efficiency, automation, and technology is to lower the cost to the user. If the size of the Bar membership (apparently about 8,000), and the fees that all those members pay, is only growing “incrementally,” then the growth of the bureaucracy’s budget should be likewise constrained to “incremental” increase.

If that is not “adequate,” require the CLE Board to piggy-back on existing State Bar mailings, notices, and staff for functions and communications that can be combined for the purpose of lowering costs.

VII. AN ACTUAL SOLUTION TO THE “PROBLEM”

It is worth circling back to the policy that is supposedly being served by creation of this CLE bureaucracy and the massive money it takes to run it: improving lawyer competence, ultimately for the benefit of the public hiring those lawyers.

The actual “solutions” that would serve that policy goal are simple and cheap, as detailed in Legal Notes 33 and 54 seven years ago: If you want to ensure that lawyers are actually learning something at CLE, require providers to test them on the subject matter of the course. If you want the public to hire the best trained and most educated lawyers, have the Bar publicly post the CLE record of all lawyers so that the public can see the currency and validity of attorneys’ continuing education.

What is not helpful to either lawyers or the public is to fund an ever-better-paid CLE bureaucracy primarily fixated on its own perpetuation and growth.

VIII. CONCLUSIONS

By my estimate, the cost of CLE in Nevada just (at least) doubled, while the number and variety of available offerings has been drastically reduced. Half a dozen companies have pulled out of Nevada entirely, and free CLE offered by law firms has essentially disappeared. Our CLE Board is actively discouraging anyone from wanting to provide either education to others, or scholarship and authorship. The new policy is counterproductive in virtually every imaginable way.

Only the Nevada Supreme Court can do anything about this. The CLE Board will never do anything to reduce its own budget and growth, and neither will the Bar. Both of those entities report to the Court, which should start with figuring out what end results it is trying to produce, and then target policies and directives to actually achieve them.

Given the enormous costs in both time and money, it may be time to re-evaluate the value of the entire system. Getting empirical evidence as to whether mandatory CLE actually does any good would seem to be a good first step.

At bare minimum, policies that discourage volunteering and scholarship should be reversed. There should be no fee of any kind for providing CLE without charging for it, and there should be no fee of any kind for seeking credit for scholarly articles and publications. It would be a good idea to have some kind of sliding scale beyond that, so that folks that have a modest charge to attendees (for example, to finance lunch or renting space) are not punished for providing a public service.

Overall, the concept is that the CLE Board should be focused on facilitating the actual providing of useful information and training to members of the Bar at the lowest possible cost, rather than maximizing revenues to perpetuate its own bureaucracy.

The CLE Board long ago lost all sight of the purpose of CLE, and the bureaucracy spawned is now solely concerned with its own perpetuation, expansion, and increase in budget. As currently constituted, the Nevada mandatory CLE system does nothing measurable to improve the competence of lawyers or judges, and the Bar does nothing to let the public get any potentially useful information from or about it. CLE is now about nothing but funding.

There is no defensible rationale for what has metastasized into the current hot mess. The State Bar, on behalf of the general membership, should ask the Court to assess the efficacy and impacts of mandatory CLE, and the Court, on behalf of the lawyers and the public, should do so.

IX. QUOTES OF THE ISSUE

“In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”
– Jerry Pournelle (Pournelle’s Law of Bureaucracy)

“Bureaucracies force us to practice nonsense. And if you rehearse nonsense, you may one day find yourself the victim of it.”
– Laurence Gonzales, Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

“Bureaucracies are inherently antidemocratic. Bureaucrats derive their power from their position in the structure, not from their relations with the people they are supposed to serve. The people are not masters of the bureaucracy, but its clients.”
– Alan Keyes

“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”
– Thomas Sowell

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For some of the CLE materials and articles produced by the Willick Law Group, go to https://willicklawgroup.com/cle-materials/ and https://willicklawgroup.com/published-works/. For the archives of previous legal notes, go to https://www.willicklawgroup.com/newsletters.

If there are any problems with or suggestions for these newsletters, please feel free to email back to me. Thanks.

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