Delegates weigh ethics issues and legislation

Issue June 2003

At its May 22 meeting at the Andover Country Club, members of the MBA House of Delegates approved the new slate of officers and delegates to the HOD, voted on a number of significant proposals from sections and heard updates from General Counsel Martin Healy and Executive Director Abigail Shaine.

Joseph P.J. Vrabel & Richard C. Van Nostrand
MBA President Joseph P.J. Vrabel (left) hands off the gavel to President-Elect Richard C. Van Nostrand during the House of Delegates meeting May 22.

President Joseph P.J. Vrabel began his final meeting by formally recognizing and welcoming the Asian American Lawyers of Massachusetts (AALAM) and the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (MAHA) to membership in the association. Joseph Hernandez, president of MAHA, and Theodore Chuang, president of the AALAM, each briefly addressed the House and pledged their active participation.

In his President-Elect's Report, Richard Van Nostrand told members about the ABA Lobby Day in Washington in April. During the event, a large delegation from the MBA held both formal and impromptu meetings with many Massachusetts legislators to discuss four primary issues, Van Nostrand said. These included: funding for legal services; independence of the judiciary, including pay raise for judges; and federalizing medical malpractice to include caps on pain and suffering.

"We also talked with them about the subtle and not-so-subtle efforts of the Bush administration - and even our own administration here in Massachusetts - attacks on lawyers, the attack on the rights of the citizenry to consult counsel, and the subtle efforts to interfere with the rights of clients to have access to justice.

"Fortunately, we have a very good congressional delegation from Massachusetts," he said. "They're very supportive. It's a job not yet done."

Three Ethics Opinions were presented by committee chair Andrew L. Kaufman. All three were approved. They included:

•  A question of whether a municipal attorney can represent a department in defending against an action by a former municipal department head, including attempting to impeach that individual by using a deposition taken in an unrelated matter while he was department head.

•  Whether an attorney can draft an advertisement for a client that risks violating Rules 3.6 and 8.4(a).

•  Whether a lawyer representing a defendant in a criminal proceeding may contact the complaining witnesses without permission of their private attorney even if a civil action has not yet been filed.

Four legislative proposals were presented by Section Councils at the meeting. Among proposals approved by the HOD were:

•  A proposal by the Property Law Section Council to support in principal, and with changes, enactment of Senate Bill No. 1174 (An Act to Promote Land Use Reform in Massachusetts).

•  A proposal by the Individual Rights & Responsibilities Section Council to support and advocate enactment of House Bill No. 2453 (An Act Relative to Court Advisement).

•  A proposal by the Individual Rights & Responsibilities Section Council to support and advocate enactment of House Bill No. 1260 (An Act Relative to Alternative Education and School Safety).

•  A proposal by the Individual Rights & Responsibilities Section Council to support and advocate enactment of House Bill No. 2506 (An Act Relative to Compensation for Certain Erroneous Felony Convictions).

In his summary of legislative activities, General Counsel Martin Healy advised the HOD that as the state legislature considers new sentencing guidelines the MBA's task force recommendations on post-incarceration supervision has been adopted by a leading legislator.

Healy also noted that Governor Romney has dropped his proposal for a solicitor general's office from his government reorganization plan, in the face of union opposition, though Romney is still trying to consolidate governmental legal services. The Senate's budget proposal also addresses this, Healy said.

The meeting closed with a report from Executive Director Abigail Shaine. Among her announcements were that the MBA has begun testing a new member benefit, called the e-Groups. These online discussion lists will be available in September to all MBA section members through their section homepages.

Also of interest to section members, Shaine announced that Section Review is about to debut in an electronic edition, in addition to the print version.

"With this, you will be able to go to the MBA Web site and link to an exact electronic copy of the printed Section Review," she said. "This will make it easy for members to read, save and pass along easy-to-read versions of individual Section Review articles or entire issues."

Shaine also spoke briefly about a new initiative to be launched this summer. The staff will begin work on a membership "data drive" to reach out to all member to improve the quality and amount of information in the MBA membership database.

"We're not turning into Big Brother," Shaine joked. "We are hoping to gather more information on members' practices and interests in order to better deliver to you the specific information on MBA programs and events that meets your interests."

The "data drive" should begin in July, Shaine said.

Shaine closed by presenting Vrabel with a collection of articles, photographs and publications from throughout his term as president.

After a ceremonial "passing of the gavel" from Vrabel to Van Nostrand, the meeting adjourned.