Board OKs removing trust account compliance certificate from fee statements

first_img Board OKs removing trust account compliance certificate from fee statements Bar members may soon no longer have to certify on their annual membership fee form that they are in compliance with trust accounting rules under a rule amendment approved by the Board of Governors.The board, at its recent Palm Coast meeting, also approved another amendment from the Disciplinary Procedure Committee that lawyers should be allowed to replace funds missing from trust accounts without being charged with comingling of funds. The board, however, rejected a committee recommendation for background checks on lay members of grievance committees, and heard the committee recommend no changes to ex parte rules on communications between lawyers and judges.Both trust accounting amendments now go to the Supreme Court for its review.Chair Jay Manuel explained to the board that the rule requiring checking a box on the fee form for trust accounting compliance was not being enforced but resulted in differing enforcement of trust accounting rules. Lawyers who had checked the box and then were found to be in violation of minor trust accounting rules did not qualify for diversion because they were deemed to have made a material misrepresentation on the membership form, while those who had not checked the box were not deemed to have made a misrepresentation and were qualified for diversion.The fee form has three options: The lawyer’s trust account is in compliance; the lawyer is not in compliance; or the lawyer is a judge or does not have a practice that requires a trust account. Bar members are required under the current rule to check one.Concerning the comingling of funds, Manuel said the Bar wanted to encourage lawyers to protect clients by replacing trust account funds that were short due to unexpected bank charges, bookkeeping errors, or theft. However, lawyers would still be obligated to report the shortfall to the Bar, even when they made up the difference.Manuel said the committee recommended a change to Standing Board Policies to require background checks for lay members after recent news stories regarding one lay member who had a run-in with the law as a teenager. He noted that lawyers have to undergo extensive background checks to be admitted to the Bar.But board member Skip Campbell said one instance did not justify a change.“We do have problems getting lay members to serve on grievance committees. I think it’s almost a slap in the face to do a background check,” he said. “We’re lawyers. These are people trying to do something for us.”The board voted 15-24 to reject the recommendation.The ex parte issue, Manuel said, grew from a criminal case when prosecutors were concerned that a criminal defendant was conspiring to have witnesses murdered. Prosecutors made ex parte contact with the presiding judge, and, with the judge’s approval, all calls and meetings with the defendant were recorded, including those with his attorneys. A second judge eventually took over the case, and the recordings and the ex parte meetings became known.A grievance committee investigated the prosecutors, but the case was eventually dropped. The Bar’s Criminal Law Section recommended that the Professional Ethics Committee consider issuing an opinion. The PEC declined because the request was outside the scope of the committee’s authority and suggested that the section seek a change to appropriate rules.Manuel said the DPC reexamined the issue and decided not to take any action.“The basis of that decision is there is a rule [on ex parte communications] and we felt setting out an opinion would. . . cause more problems than it would help,” he said.On another matter, Manuel presented a rule amendment to the board to provide that suspended lawyers may not file a petition for reinstatement until they have completed 80 percent of their suspension. That recommendation will come to the board for approval at its May 23 meeting. May 1, 2014 Regular Newscenter_img Board OKs removing trust account compliance certificate from fee statementslast_img

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