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Comment sought on unauthorized practice opinions

The Virginia State Bar’s standing committee on unauthorized practice of law is seeking public comments by Sept. 9 on two proposed UPL opinions.

One opinion addresses a situation highlighted by a case this year in the Amherst County courts. A juvenile and domestic relations judge allowed a husband involved in a custody case to serve as prosecutor when the wife was charged with criminal contempt for disobeying a visitation order.

Lynchburg lawyer M. Paul Valois – the one-time lawyer for the wife – objected to the litigant serving as a state lawyer, but neither the J&DR judge nor a circuit judge were persuaded to change the arrangement.

Now, the VSB panel proposes UPL Opinion 217 stating that it is the unauthorized practice of law for a non-lawyer party in a civil domestic relations matter to act as prosecutor for criminal contempt proceedings arising from the case.

The proposed opinion will be considered in October by the VSB Council, according to the VSB.

Another proposed UPL opinion would state that a state probation officer is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in making a sentencing recommendation or giving an opinion about the appropriate outcome of a criminal matter in a pre-sentence report.

The VSB committee found a “range of legal authority” indicating a probation officer was not straying into legal practice while performing statutory duties to bring issues to the attention of a court.

Written comments about the proposed UPL opinions can be sent to VSB executive director Karen Gould.

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