A prequisite for pro bono?

Lawyers across the country have been talking about New York’s new mandate requiring those seeking to join the bar to complete 50 hours of pro bono work.

New York will be the first state to institute such a requirement, which will take effect starting next year. New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the requirement May 1.

Since then, lawyers have been discussing the pros and cons of the rule. Some say it won’t do anything to help needy clients and unnecessarily burden incoming lawyers. Others contend it will turn new lawyers on to pro bono service.

Bloomberg BNA asked lawyers around the country what they think.

Ben Trachtenberg, professor at the University of Missouri School of Law: “While I completely appreciate the motive behind Chief Judge Lippman’s plan, and there’s a tremendous access to justice problem, I don’t think this is a particularly effective or fair way to solve the problem.”

Michael Millemann, professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law: Chief Judge Lippman’s decision to require 50 hours of pro bono service for admission to the bar is a good step in the right direction.”

Robert N. Weiner, partner, Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C.: “The issue is whether there will be enough resources to ensure that the people doing the pro bono are getting supervised, and getting to represent the right clients, and actually serving their clients The existing infrastructure will need to be supplemented dramatically to have the capacity to accommodate all this pro bono service.”

Questions remain about the implementation and organization of the requirement (some lawyers even want to extend the rule to existing lawyers) and the New York State Bar Association has created a task force to address the issue. What impact New York’s move will have on other states also remains to be seen.

Do you think Maryland should make pro bono work a prerequisite for admission to the bar?

Exxon update: MDE will consider the request to reconsider

Following reports by our own Danny Jacobs and others that the Maryland Department of the Environment had decided to lift some of Exxon’s remediation requirements in the area of the massive 2006 Jacksonville gasoline leak — a decision made without input from those who live near the site, and which the agency seemed loathe to revisit — MDE Secretary Shari T. Wilson heard from her boss.

The upshot was an after-business-hours e-mail to the media from Wilson’s office. Received here at 6:24 p.m. Tuesday, it says, in part:

MDE today received a request from Governor Martin O’Malley to carefully and expeditiously review the citizen’s request to reconsider the decision allowing ExxonMobil to discontinue supplying bottled water. MDE will, of course, do so. This review, and previous decisions, are reviewed by scientists with expertise in groundwater, public health, and subsurface remediation.

Just to be clear, Wilson isn’t saying MDE has changed its mind, or that it will change its mind — only that it will think about the homeowners’ request that it change its mind.

A legal game of H-O-R-S-E

H. Mercedes Clemens, a certified personal massage therapist in Rockville, expected to be back at her side business of massaging horses by now.

But her efforts to end a cease-and-desist order from the Maryland Board of Chiropractic and Massage Therapy Examiners remain in legal limbo. While pre-trial hearings were scheduled to resume tomorrow in Montgomery County Circuit Court, they have been postponed — a third time — for at least a month, according to her attorney Paul Sherman.

When Clemens and the board last met in court, May 5, Judge David A. Boynton wondered aloud whether the agency, which certifies massage therapists, has the authority to regulate the massaging of horses.

Boynton postponed further hearings on the issue for a month to allow the board to reconsider its position at a May 14 meeting. The board didn’t back down, and Clemens has no intention of doing so.

Scheduling conflicts caused the June 2 hearing to be postponed until June 17. Today, that hearing was postponed as well.

Stay tuned.

Untraceable guns, untraceable crime

According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, gun dealers nationwide “lost” an average of at least 82 firearms every day last year. For all of fiscal year 2007, this adds up to a grand total of more than 30,000 firearms that cannot be accounted for in dealers’ inventories. The Brady Center analyzed this month’s data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which led to these disturbing figures.

Untraceable guns are the perfect fit for criminals seeking to become untraceable themselves. That’s why the law already requires dealers to keep records of the guns it sells, and to whom. And gun laws aside, tracking inventory should be basic shopkeepers’ math. It doesn’t seem like that should be too much to ask of any honest, moral gun dealer.

Unfortunately, an enforcement agency like the ATF doesn’t have the resources to inspect every single gun store across the country. Between untraceable guns and legislative loopholes (like the fact that our government has failed to require gun shows to implement a thorough background check on customers), gun control looks more and more like an exercise in futility.

As a person who grew up in a house with guns, and whose father took the license to have such a weapon very seriously, I would hope there are many law-abiding gun owners out there who would not see more stringent enforcement of inventory regulations as an assault on the Second Amendment. Besides, according to that very amendment, even the militia “necessary to the security of a free State” is “well regulated.”

Francis Smith, Special Publications Assistant Editor

Is $18 million too much?

The new Maryland Insurance Commissioner, Ralph S. Tyler, said Wednesday he will convene a hearing to see if the $18-plus million severance package for former CareFirst CEO William L. Jews (at right) is too much.

Tyler is specifically looking to see if the $17.6 million plus $800,000 in interest package violates state insurance law requiring payment to former employees be “fair and reasonable.”

The company, which saw $5.5 billion in revenue in 2006, says it did not just come up with the figure out of thin air and claims it is in line with other nonprofit Blue Shield and Blue Crosses.

“The $17.6 million referenced in Commissioner Tyler’s release is made up of about $12.6 million in retirement benefits and deferred compensation earned over 13½ years as CEO and about $5.0 million in severance payments,” CareFirst said in its statement. “Further, several expert compensation consultants retained by our board have independently concluded that the benefits due Mr. Jews are reasonable compared with those provided by similar not-for-profit Blues Plans.”

Who’s right?

—BEN MOOK, Assistant Business Editor