I like our 2014 – 2016 vision statement: “The Monroe County Bar is indispensable to its members and the justice system through the delivery of cutting edge services essential to their success.” This vision was jointly adopted by the boards of both the Bar Association and its Foundation in February 2014 after a two-year strategic planning process, facilitated by staff from the American Bar Association.
As with most visions, it reflects aspirations, but I am proud to say that in many ways it also manifests reality in the programs and services offered by the MCBA.
The MCBA’s Ethics Committee, chaired this year by Katie Carter, quietly and confidentially provides an essential service to the members of our legal community. The committee accepts requests from attorneys about ethical obligations and their future conduct, and meets regularly to consider how the Rules of Professional Conduct apply to a given situation.
The committee will respond to the inquiring attorney’s request. Inquiries are anonymous to everyone except the chair, and any discussion by the committee regarding such inquiry is confidential.
The Monroe County’s Public Defender and Conflict Defender offices have long anchored a successful model for the representation of indigent individuals in criminal and family law matters. When these offices are conflicted out of a matter, the system turns to members of the bar for assignment as Counsel.
The most recent version of the Assigned Counsel Program was jointly developed in 2003 by the County of Monroe, the Unified Court System, and the MCBA, and includes an advisory committee appointed by the MCBA. For the past five years, Jon Getz has served as chair of this advisory committee.
During Jon’s term, the committee has offered a number of recommendations, many of which the program’s administrator, Chuck Noce, has been able to build upon and guide through the budgetary and grant making processes. One important accomplishment is a new internal database that will ease the production of reports, and ultimately facilitate the committee’s review of the program.
The Assigned Counsel Program will also be rolling out a new online vouchering system in January. The new system will both simplify and expedite the payment process for assigned attorneys. Attorney training sessions will be conducted in December, so be on the lookout for a notice from Chuck later this month with the details.
Jon is stepping down from his leadership role this year, but I am pleased to announce that the Hon. Patricia Marks has agreed to become the new chair of the Assigned Counsel Advisory Committee. I anticipate the advisory committee will have continued success in helping to refine the efficiency, effectiveness, and evenhandedness of the Assigned Counsel Program.
The MCBA’s Professional Performance Committee operates pursuant to §1022.19(e) of the Appellate Division Rules, and has been charged with the responsibility of investigating “minor” complaints lodged against attorneys in Monroe County by their clients and determining whether those complaints should result in either a finding of adequate professional performance or inadequate professional performance against the attorney.
An investigating attorney is assigned to each complaint by Chairperson Rich Curtis. After review, the committee may find that the attorney’s professional performance was adequate or inadequate. In addition, the committee may specify the Rule of Professional Conduct at issue, or offer limited commentary on the seriousness or mitigating factors surrounding the attorney’s conduct. There may also be a finding that the Professional Performance Committee lacks jurisdiction or is not the appropriate forum to resolve the issue. In all instances, the committee’s findings are reviewed by the Attorney Grievance Committee.
Fee Dispute Resolution
The MCBA’s Fee Arbitration Committee operates under Part 137 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator, with the association acting as an impartial administrator. The program has jurisdiction over most disagreements concerning a fee paid, charged or claimed for legal services in civil matters in which the majority of the legal services were performed in the Seventh Judicial District despite the residence of the client or the office location of the attorney.
The program has a dual component of settlement investigation and arbitration. All incoming complaints are first assigned to a committee member by Chair Bryan Pelkey for settlement investigation, unless the party has declined those services. If settlement is unsuccessful, the matter is assigned to an arbitration panel. A single arbitrator will sit for matters where the fee in dispute is up to $10,000. For disputes $10,000and above, a panel of three, including one non-attorney member is formed.
The panel is empowered to find facts, decide questions of law and to fashion an award.
The decision is only binding upon the parties who have consented in advance to binding arbitration. In all other cases, the decision is subject to trial de novo in a court with jurisdiction over the amount in dispute. If no action is commenced within 30 days of the mailing of the arbitration award, the award becomes final and binding.
Lawyer Referral Service
The MCBA’s Lawyer Referral Service has evolved to become both a Lawyer Referral and an Information Service. Nearly 6,000 calls and online requests are received annually, and many calls are directed to different agencies, or are resolved by providing information on where individuals can find help for their particular needs.
However, the core function of the LRS remains connecting individuals with a member of the bar for issues related to bankruptcy, family law, employment, personal injury, workers compensation, landlord & tenant issues, disability, taxes, wills, estates and trusts, and more. Last year 1,300 referrals were made to attorneys on our panel.
The MCBA is always interested in adding to our panel, and we have a specific need for attorneys concentrating in consumer affairs, education, immigration, intellectual property, mental hygiene and military law. Attorneys interested in signing up for our LRS panel should contact Mark Swail at (585) 546-2130.
Neil J. Rowe is president of the Monroe County Bar Association, adjunct instructor of management at Keuka College, and principal of NJ Rowe Consulting Services. He can be reached at email@example.com.