“[G]iven the extraordinary circumstances that compel me to entertain any and all avenues for relief, it strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it.”
– Michael Barrett, director of Missouri’s Public Defender Commission, in a letter appointing Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to serve as a public defender. The letter highlights funding cuts that Gov. Nixon has made to the public defender system in recent years.
Barrett cited a state statute that allows the director to “delegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri.” Nixon, the state’s former attorney general, is a member of The Missouri Bar.
Responding, Nixon asserted that the director’s authority to appoint private attorneys is not legal unless the attorney consents to the appointment.
“The maneuver by Barrett and the response from Nixon put the state in uncharted waters,” wrote Kurt Erickson for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
By the Numbers
The percentage of U.S. law firm acquisitions in the second quarter of 2016 that involved law firms with fewer than 25 attorneys, according to Altman Weil Mergerline™, which tracks law firm mergers and acquisitions.
Small law firms were acquired by or combined with larger firms in 26 deals in the second quarter.
“Small firms are increasingly vulnerable in the current market,” said Altman Weil principal Eric Seeger. “There’s more competition for less work, and small firms need a strategy to avoid being squeezed out. That may mean building a bigger platform or being acquired by a firm that already has a broader foundation.”
The report noted that the biggest deal of the quarter was Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell’s acquisition of Wisconsin-based Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. WL
Did You Just Call Me Sweetheart?
Last month the American Bar Association (ABA) amended a model ethics rule, prohibiting offensive language or conduct by lawyers in various settings.
In reporting the ABA’s move, the New York Times noted male lawyers’ use of terms like “honey” or “sweetheart” to address women lawyers.
“Without a flat prohibition, advocates of the rule said, using demeaning and misogynistic terms and actions to undermine opposing counsel and others too often does not have consequences,” the article notes.
The amendment prohibits conduct “the lawyer knows or reasonably should know” is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital or socioeconomic status.
This could apply in court, at the office, or during “business or social activities in connection with the practice of law,” according to a comment to the rule.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 20:8.4 prohibits harassment on the basis of sex, race, age, creed, religion, color, national origin, disability, sexual preference or marital status “in connection with the lawyer’s professional activities.”
A Wisconsin lawyer who, in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based on status violates the rule “when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice,” a comment to the rule notes.
Source: New York Times, “Goodbye to ‘Honeys’ in Court, by Vote of the American Bar Association” WL
Cell Phones in Work Zones: Time for a Hands-free Device?
Starting Oct. 1, it is illegal to talk on a handheld device while driving in work zones in Wisconsin.
Under the new law, first-time offenders will face a $40 fine. Subsequent offenses carry a $100 fine.
Don’t worry. It will still be legal to talk on a hands-free device (or use speaker phone) while driving through work zones, so it may be time to invest in the technology.
In Illinois, it’s illegal to talk with a cell phone in hand, regardless of whether you are in a work zone or not.
Source: WEAU 13 News, Eau Claire
Sorority Sisters in Federal Court
As your kids head back to college, the following advice may be appropriate: choose your roommate wisely.
Last month, Penn State University student Rachel Lader (an aspiring lawyer) filed a defamation and breach-of-contract lawsuit against her roommate and sorority sister.
Lader alleged that her roommate’s parents “used their influence at the school to manipulate a baseless disciplinary proceeding against her that ended with her being placed on academic probation and threatened with expulsion,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The parents had complained to Penn State about Lader’s allegedly relentless bullying against their daughter, Molly Brownstein. Before their squabbles began, the two signed a lease to live together this fall.
“Unless someone bends, these two scrapping sorority sisters again could be sharing living quarters as well as opposite sides of a courtroom,” reporter Jeremy Roebuck wrote.
On the Radar
Legislative Council Takes Up Access to Civil Legal Services
In July, the Legislative Council Study Committee on Access to Civil Legal Services, created at the request of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, began its review of the funding and delivery of legal services for the indigent in civil cases.
Numerous presenters addressed the 16-member committee, including Jeff Brown, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s pro bono program manager.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago), a State Bar member, has set meetings for Sept. 14 and Oct. 12.
“The hope is that this legislative committee process will result in a bill that helps low-income citizens receive the assistance they need on civil legal issues that can profoundly impact their lives,” Jeff Brown said.