December 11, 2009
The following is a summary of actions taken at the Dec. 11, 2009 meeting of the New Jersey State Bar Association Board of Trustees at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. This summary does not constitute official minutes.
The Board of Trustees voted to add its voice to the discussion on electronic filing in the state courts. The electronic filing of lawsuits and other court documents has already been integrated in the nation's federal courts and increasingly state courts have gotten into the act. New Jersey has some electronic filing for special civil part matters.
In June, a Supreme Court committee released a report that recommended the state courts adopt an e-filing system and, over the course of several years, use it to process the over 4 million transactions it handles each year. Roughly 34 attorneys, court managers and information officers spent a year examining what kind of system the courts should use, how to integrate a new system with the existing case management systems, how New Jersey can benefit from e-filing and what time frames should be considered for expanding e-filing. The committee made 38 recommendations to the Supreme Court, including developing a comprehensive e-filing system to address document filing, case management and records management, allowing people to pay filing fees electronically, and adopting a standard format for e-filing across different practice areas.
The State Bar association's board endorsed the concept of e-filings, but expressed reservations about a committee suggestion to increase filing fees, and possibly user fees, to pay for the system. "The NJSBA conceptually supports the expansion of electronic filing to all divisions of the New Jersey Superior, Appellate and Supreme Courts. However, we do not support any funding mechanism other than one that seeks funding from the judicial budget through other cost-cutting measures," wrote President Allen A. Etish in a letter to the Court.
Annual attorney assessments
The board voted to encourage state officials to examine the fees attorneys pay each year. Given its nearly 20 percent budget reserve, amounting to roughly $2 million of the Disciplinary Oversight Committee Budget, the state bar's Board of Trustees voted to request the Supreme Court reduce the annual assessment placed on attorneys to $126.
"We have long supported a strong disciplinary system that serves the interest of clients and the bar… (However) the lawyers of New Jersey have been suffering through the recession along with everyone else in the state and deserve the limited financial assistance that would occur from a reduction in the assessment," Etish wrote in a letter to the Court.
Members of the State Bar association will now be offered a chance to sign a "Soldier's Pledge" vowing to handle one pro bono matter for a military reservist, the board approved in a vote. The bar association's Military Law and Veterans' Affairs Section has coordinated a free legal assistance program for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawyers in the program agree to represent a veteran for free on a civil or family matter.
The New Jersey State Bar Association is petitioning the state's appeals and high courts to file friend-of-the-court briefs in a trio of cases, Olkusz v. Brown, a dispute over the retroactive application of the "Scutari Amendment" in accidents involving company vehicles; Lawyers Fund v. Stewart Title Insurance Company, which addresses whether a title insurance company is liable for an attorney's misappropriation of funds; and Klumpp v. Borough of Avalon, that centers on the question of who is the rightful owner of a beachfront property: the family that has owned it and paid taxes on it since 1960 or the town that maintains the property, which no longer contains a residence.
The trustees approved a pair of new benefits for members. For lawyers who cannot afford to hire a receptionist, a new service, called Ruby Receptionists, is now available. Members can also now get 15 percent discounts at Office Max, in stores, online and through catalogue orders.
The association's Nominating Committee extended the deadline for qualified members to apply for three at-large trustee positions, which will be open in May. The reason for the extension is to clarify who is eligible to be considered for the positions. Pursuant to the NJSBA's bylaws, the at-large trustees represent segments of the membership not adequately represented on the board of trustees, as designated by the board. For purposes of filling the three open positions, the board has designated the following groups as underrepresented: NJSBA members of Hispanic and Asian-Pacific backgrounds, and members who are over 70 years old. The filing deadline is noon, Jan. 6.
A group of 10 lawyers from around the state were honored at the holiday luncheon for their volunteer efforts in bolstering the bar group's political agenda, assisting in cases before the Supreme Court and in furthering its efforts in the field of judicial administration. The honored attorneys were: Gerald Baker, Amirali Haidri, Eric Kahn, Daniel Rosner, Annabelle Steinhacker, Bonnie Frost, Robert Pitt, Paula Dow, and William Isele.