The Virginia State Bar Council endorsed payee notification this afternoon on a 39-25 vote.
The vote was a sharp turnaround from a 54-7 rejection of the concept two years ago. That vote came before full disclosure of the extent of the thefts by disbarred Woodbridge lawyer Stephen Conrad, which one council member described as “a cosmic 2 by 4″ for the bar. Conrad admitted pocketing millions of dollars in settlements intended for hundreds of clients. He is serving an 11-year prison term.
Opponents of the measure contended that it unfairly singles out personal injury lawyers and doesn’t directly address the larger problem of making whole clients who have had money stolen by attorneys.
Those arguments were countered by Richmond attorney Irv Blank, president-elect of the VSB, and Luray attorney George Shanks, who will succeed Blank. They had been among the strongest opponents of the proposal when it was defeated in 2007.
“The most important responsibility we have is the public protection of our clients,” Blank said in explaining his change of heart.
Shanks recalled the explanation of North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin who voted for civil rights legislation he had opposed a decade earlier. “I have grown wiser,” Shanks said. “The Conrad case has made me wiser.”
Before it can become effective, the concept must be approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia and enacted by the General Assembly
By Alan Cooper