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IOLTA, judicial funding on VBA legislative agenda

ROANOKE – Increasing money for both legal aid and for the judiciary are two key items on the Virginia Bar Association’s agenda for the 2013 General Assembly session.

VBA president Hugh M. Fain said reforming Virginia’s actual innocence law also ranks high among the VBA’s legislative goals.

Speaking to the Roanoke Bar Association Tuesday, Fain said the VBA hopes to reverse the narrow defeat last year of a bill that would clear the way for sending interest on most lawyers’ trust accounts to legal aid.

“Legal aid is really hurting,” Fain said, pointing to reductions in government support, the failure of an “IOLTA” measure this year and depressed interest rates. Fain said the VBA-backed mandatory IOLTA bill died in committee by a “very slim margin.”

“I think we’re going to get across the finish line this coming year,” he said.

Fain said mandatory IOLTA won support at a recent meeting of statewide bar associations.

The VBA is backing a rewrite of Virginia’s actual innocence law, a change also championed by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Besides relaxing slightly the standard for a finding of innocence, the VBA would allow those prosecuted in juvenile court to challenge their outcomes under the actual innocence law.

To show the need for more state money for judges and the court system, Fain cited statistics showing the judiciary generates about twice the revenue it takes from state coffers, with a budget of less than one percent of the state general fund.

Fain said judicial employees have not had a raise since 2007 and 48 judge vacancies are expected by the time the Assembly meets in January, meaning the judiciary is “under-compensated and overworked.”

W. David Harless – president of the Virginia State Bar – followed Fain’s legislative wish list with a forecast of issues arising from the VSB. One likely to get a hearing at the 2013 Assembly is payee notification. A task force has recommended a bill that would require insurance companies to directly notify a claimant when sending a claim payment to the claimant’s attorney.

Harless said he expects a lively discussion on the proposal at an Oct. 19 meeting of the VSB council.

-By Peter Vieth

CLARIFICATION: The description of the IOLTA bill has been changed to clarify that the bill would not directly impose the interest payment requirement and would not be directed at banks.

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