Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pets R (most of) Us!

Now then, I’ve gotten your attention with cuteness overload--well at least 60% of you.  Approximately 60% of Americans own pets, and most of those pet-owners are dog owners.  And while many of us pet owners frown on the use of the word “own” since our pets are actually our beloved family members, I intended to use ‘own’ in the truest legal sense of the word.  Come to VBA’s Pet Law Day on September 30, 2016 in S. Burlington and you will see how a dog compares, in the eyes of the law, to, say, a couch! 

There have been several pet-related cases that have made it to the Vermont Supreme Court, a few of which will be discussed at our Pet Law Day.  But what about the couch?  Well, despite that many studies have shown that pets can reduce obesity, increase happiness and reduce stress in their owners, they are simply, legally, personal property. Though many have tried, there cannot be a custody arrangement for a family pet in Vermont.  Not only can pets not be subject to an order of custody, they also, unlike humans, can instead be subject to a “finders-keepers” ruling like a couch on a street corner. But unlike a couch, dogs escape and can bite either each other or humans.   Also, unlike a couch, you cannot leave them in a hot car or otherwise mistreat them.  Sound complicated?  It is!  We will explore these issues and more, including pet trusts, at Pet Law Day on September 30, so register TODAY! 

Pet laws are complex and the industry is robust. Spending on pets in the US has grown rapidly over the last decade.  It is estimated that Americans spent approximately $60 Billion on pets in 2015, which is slightly more than we spent on clothing, handbags, makeup and shoes combined.  This spending also edged out what was spent on childcare by over $10 Billion.  More troublesome, perhaps for the ridiculed pet and most certainly for those living in poverty with legal needs, Americans spent approximately $350 Million on Halloween costumes for their pets in 2015, which is over 90% of the entire Legal Services Corporation funding for the same year to fund Legal Aid.  Saving the priorities discussion for another day, pets are undoubtedly a major factor in the lives and the spending of Americans.

As the industry grows, so does the case law addressing situations relating to animals.  Our Lawyer Referral Service receives calls monthly related to pet theft, custody, bites and the like.  Just this week we received a call involving a pet that was kept in one home at the end of the child’s visitation, against the other parent’s wishes, with no agreement or order in place addressing the former family’s pet.  Just yesterday, there was a dog death and vehicle break-in for a dog left in a hot car in Colchester. We receive so many calls that we are adding an Animal Law category to our Lawyer Referral Service.  Want to be added to our LRS Animal Law category?  If you are already a registered LRS attorney, email Devlin at dnicholls@vtbar.org to add this category.  If you are not a VBA Lawyer Referral Service attorney, why not?!  Register HERE and perhaps the next Vermont Supreme Court animal case could be yours!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Crowdfunding Justice

Welcome to the 2016 Vermont Poverty Law Fellow, Mairead O’Reilly!  Mairead is our fifth Vermont Poverty Law Fellow, funded entirely by generous donations from over 300 Vermont lawyers, law firms and organizations to the annual Vermont Bar Foundation Access to Justice Campaign.  Originally spearheaded by the late Joan Wing, attorney Spencer Knapp and former VBA Executive Director, Bob Paolini, among others, and through herculean efforts of all of the Access to Justice Campaign volunteers, the Vermont Poverty Law Fellowship program is now welcoming its fifth two-year fellow.   The fellowship was designed to address serious unmet legal needs of Vermont’s low-income community. 

In 2008, Grace Pazdan became the first Vermont Poverty Law Fellow, focusing on the foreclosure crisis and providing legal representation to Vermonters facing foreclosure.  During her tenure, she was instrumental in creating Vermont’s mandatory foreclosure mediation statute and training attorneys to assist defendants.  Jessica Radbord then became the second fellow, focusing on housing issues, particularly with respect to rental housing safety.  Because her fellowship coincided with flooding both in May of 2011 and with Irene’s late August, 2011 flooding, Jessica represented those most affected by the storms with their housing needs, having a tremendous impact on Vermont’s disaster recovery procedures.

Jay Diaz became Vermont’s third Poverty Law Fellow, focusing on promoting educational access, stability and equity for Vermont’s low-income children.  Throughout 2012-2014, he worked tirelessly in an effort to close the opportunity gap facing students from lower-income households.  In 2014, Katelyn Atwood became the fourth fellow, focusing on Veterans' rights.  Not only was Katelyn able to assist Vermont Veterans directly with unmet legal needs, she did a significant amount of outreach and training, raising awareness regarding the needs of Vermont’s 50,000 Veterans and training attorneys to be able to assist them.

The Access to Justice Campaign is proud to be able to fund this year’s fifth fellow, Mairead O’Reilly, who will be focusing on the broad impact of Vermont’s opioid epidemic.  The epidemic has far-reaching effects on housing, education and health care and has caused great stress to our courts, agencies and schools.  Mairead will be working on identifying, developing and implementing solutions, including systemic reform initiatives, to help addicted and recovering clients get their lives on track and contribute to their communities once again. 

Not only was Ms. O’Reilly a Full Tuition Merit Scholar at the University of Connecticut School of Law, she spent her law school terms working in the field of access to justice, at the Greater Hartford Legal Aid, The University of Connecticut Poverty Law Clinic, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, and the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project in Washington, D.C.  She will no doubt continue the outstanding work of our poverty law fellows-past while carving her own positive and enduring path of change.

The hundreds of donors to the Access to Justice Campaign can see real value and impact of their contributions.  This is crowdfunding at its finest – having a great idea, funding a great idea and putting the great idea into tangible action!  How about adding another sense to the mix?  Donors can get a taste of the great idea (in the form of a craft beer, wine or spirit) by coming to any one (or all) of the upcoming regional Justice Fest events!

Donors to this year's campaign are provided a drink ticket and can meet Mairead.  All are welcome.  Contributions are needed, especially if the great work of the Vermont Poverty Law Fellow is to continue.  The annual campaign starts NOW and is coming soon to a watering hole near you.  Check our website banner for details, or click HERE for the Journal ad (p 22-23)!  The first event is September 26, 2016 at the Hop 'N Moose in Rutland.

Mairead came by last week to meet with VBA Executive Director Teri Corsones and VBF Executive Director Deb Bailey.

2016 Vermont Poverty Law Fellow Mairead O'Reilly

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Special Delivery!

Debate, Dialogue, Discussion, Discourse, Deliberation… Lawyers love these “D” words.  The differences between them are subtle, but meaningful, and not merely semantics.  The underlying theme, however, is the recognition that there exist differing viewpoints, on virtually everything, and those variances need to be explored.  We attorneys pride ourselves on being open and informed, which can only be accomplished through endless debate and discussion.

Because we know our members’ Dominant Desire for Discussion, the Vermont Bar Association is Determined to Deliver! 

The Attorney General is defined as the ‘chief’ lawyer or ‘chief’ law enforcement officer for the State.  We understand that lawyers, in particular, will want to be conversant regarding the choice for this crucial legal position.  This year, the Attorney General race is contested, and who better to host a debate between the chief candidates than your association of lawyers?  

              JOIN US on Thursday, September 8, 2016 
        at 3:00pm at the Statehouse Pavilion

in the Auditorium in Montpelier for a debate between the two main-party candidates for Attorney General.  VBA Executive Director Teri Corsones will be moderating the discussion between Deb Bucknam and T.J. Donovan on issues that matter most to our membership!

Light refreshments to be served.

If you’d like to submit a question, which may be utilized (without attribution) at the debate, please send it to jeb@vtbar.org by August 31, 2016. 

But wait, there are more Discussions to Deliver! Save the Date.

 The Vermont Bar Association is also proud to host a “Gubernatorial Dialogue” for the three candidates for Vermont Governor on Thursday, October 13, 2016 from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. at our 138th Annual Meeting at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee. The candidates include, alphabetically, Bill Lee (Liberty Union), Sue Minter (Democrat) and Phil Scott (Republican). Each candidate will give a brief presentation about issues affecting the justice system, and then will field questions from the audience. Come meet the candidates, and ask them your questions about issues relating to our justice system in Vermont. 

Check the VBA website often for updates on the event at www.vtbar.org and click HERE to register for the annual meeting.  Don’t Delay!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Peaceful Pursuits

We received an email from one of our members who has been going through some hard times taking care of aging and ill family members.  She wanted to let us know that she read our Pursuits of Happiness Blawg, which prompted her to share how much quilting and crocheting have allowed her to remain centered and at peace.  She also alluded to how great gardening is to relieve stress.  For our cover contest submission, we heard from another member who has spent countless hours in her kayak just observing a breeding population of bald eagles who have made their home near hers. 

Our Pursuits of Happiness interviews are in full swing, and, as promised, we are highlighting members with some mad skills, that is, in addition to their legal prowess.  The emails and cover contest submissions, however, remind us of how our members do whatever they can to make time to enjoy all of what Vermont has to offer.  Even a close colleague of mine, who is objectively and undeniably a workaholic, tries to take time in the evening to enjoy his breathtaking views at home:   

While the legal profession is considered to be an extremely stressful profession, one word that connotes stress universally to all professions is “commute.”  Indeed, this was the most worrisome item in the “con” category when considering closing my near 20-year law practice to join the staff of the VBA.  Commuting can undoubtedly be stressful, especially when considering trading a 3-minute rural commute for a 40-minute drive to the thriving metropolis of Montpelier.  Not only will I no longer have moose and bear at my office, but I have to drive there surrounded by other drivers?!  Fear not, however, as I found that I could never tire of the breathtaking views coming into Montpelier from the south in the mornings.   On most days, the valleys are filled with fog, contrasting beautifully with the vast green mountains in the sun.  Of course, commuters can only take fleeting mental pictures, as there is really no way to capture this beauty without committing several dangerous traffic violations.

In the “pro” category, it seemed potentially an even trade to swap moose and bear for the energy and excitement of Montpelier, brimming with outstanding eateries.  But then there was a bonus: Hubbard Park!  Just behind the VBA office is one of the many entrances to Hubbard Park.   Imagine my surprise one lunch break, when I wandered up the switchback trail and found this: 

Peaceful pursuits need not take long.  It takes me 14 minutes to walk from my office to the top of the Tower at Hubbard Park.  A brisk walk (on the days I don’t indulge at one of Montpelier’s amazing lunch haunts) can relieve a ton of stress in just 30 minutes.  A shawl can also be crocheted during lunch. There are attorneys that run or play tennis nearly every day at lunch.  Sunset kayaks or paddleboards are the epitome of relaxation. 

Vermont attorneys work extremely hard taxing their brains and pouring endless energy into helping clients, whether or not the clients can afford full freight.  We’ve been blessed with one of the most beautiful Vermont summers in recent memory, so hopefully all of our members are taking some much-deserved time out for their peaceful pursuits.  Our minds, bodies and clients will thank us. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thank you, Bob!

On Sunday, July 31, 2016, friends from the Vermont Bar Foundation and the Vermont Bar Association hosted a party for Bob Paolini at Button Bay State Park to honor his tenure as Executive Director of the VBA and to benefit the Vermont Bar Foundation.  It was a pleasure to pay tribute to his work in turning our VBA into an effective voice for the profession and for promoting the rule of law and access to justice.  All proceeds from the party have been donated to the Vermont Bar Foundation in Bob’s honor to benefit low-income and needy Vermonters’ legal needs. We are extremely grateful for the guests who attended and donated to the VBF.  Thank you!  Some pictures from the event, including of the delicious, Bob-commemorative cake made by our own Teri Corsones, follow.

Most of our members know that the current strength of the VBA and particularly the VBA’s strong presence in the legislature are attributable to Bob’s tireless effort over the years. Bob’s legacy as Executive Director is evident in a healthy bar association, whose members represent all areas of practice in all corners of the state and who are actively engaged in shaping the direction of the legal system.  The VBA, through Bob’s work, has become a leader in the Vermont legal and judicial systems.  Bob efforts have ensured that VBA members have a voice and a seat at the table when new laws and procedures are proposed that will affect our practice and our clients.   

Bob became Executive Director of the VBA in January 1996 during a period of transition for the Association.  Over the next few years, Bob worked to rebuild membership numbers, created a voice for the Bar in the legislature, built partnerships with the judiciary, and kept members informed of any potential changes to the practice as they emerged.  Under Bob's leadership, the VBA boasts one of the highest membership rates of any voluntary state bar in the country and has played a role in nearly every important development in the legal profession in the state.

Bob began to work with the Vermont Bar Foundation and through this partnership, he played an instrumental role in creating and growing the Poverty Law Fellowship and the Access to Justice Campaign, which together have raised nearly a million dollars in charitable donations from lawyers to increase legal representation for traditionally under-served populations. Bob was also an early champion of the Vermont Incubator Project, which has helped young lawyers transition to solo or small firm practice. 

Those who have not had the benefit of serving on the VBA board or serving as president may not know how Bob has benefited the VBA in more subtle ways.  Bob has a unique way of making each president feel special, without the president, and even Bob himself, knowing that he is doing it.  He is the consummate flatterer, always humbly saying to his president “you’re the boss” but somehow operating as a master puppeteer, making sure everything is handled smoothly.   Service on the board becomes a passion, an addiction, perhaps, if only to reach the culmination of becoming instrumental in Bob’s smooth operation.  Bob has, in turn, long attributed all of the success to his staff.  Clearly, together, they’ve got the routine nailed down.  

July’s celebration was the capstone to a long goodbye that began in March when the VBA hosted a past-presidents’ comedy roast for Bob.  Past-presidents kept people in stitches all night, recounting dozens of hilarious Bob stories.  At one point, his whole table was in tears.  Fortunately for Bob, the event was neither recorded nor were many photos taken. Some of the stories were probably best left not repeated.  What was clear was that Bob has made true friendships with each of the presidents he served (or vice-versa!).

At one point in the roast, emcee Dan Richardson read aloud a long series of Bob texts and emails sent to Dan over the past year or so.  It went something like this: “k, k, sure, no, later, yes, k, yes, k, fine, k…” Not only is Bob a man of few words, but he is also the king of one word, or even one letter, replies.  In true Bob fashion, this blawg will end with a series of single words that together, or apart at times, describe Bob.

Welcoming, perceptive, humble, organizer, entertainer, listener, infectious, stoic, sarcastic, engaging, funny, agreeable, active, confident, intuitive, delegator, sensitive, fun, passionate, flatterer, quiet, open, helpful, easy-going, energetic, board-dad, generous, tactful, diplomatic, aware, concise, doer, talented, genuine, smart, reclusive, motivator, FRIEND.

Thank you, Bob, for your leadership and for agreeing to continue as our Government Relations Guru. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Everybody needs a HUG!

Coming soon -- our Higher Logic online communities which will be a Y-UGE improvement over our current listserves.   Our staff is working closely with Higher Logic in their Higher Logic User Groups (called “HUGS”) to set up the best user experience possible.  The online communities are a way for members to share their collective wisdom, stories, and forms, and ask questions among their peers.  The migration will allow the conversations to be archiveable and searchable and will also allow the creation of wiki-type references among colleagues. It will also provide a convenient platform for us to communicate with our members and post events.

VBA staff Lisa Maxfield and Laura Welcome went to a complimentary two-day intensive training with Higher Logic in Arlington, VA.  They have returned ready to hit the ground running.  All of our member database and individual listserve databases have been exported into the new system.  Lisa, Laura and Jennifer have completed the community name, logo, tagline and theme of the site.  Without giving too much away before the “big reveal,” keep your eyes peeled for an invitation to VBA Connect!

We are very aware of the limitations of our current listserve service in terms of being able to find old conversations or even keeping strings of conversations straight.  And who hasn’t fallen victim to the too often embarrassing “reply = reply to list” error?  Let’s also not forget the periodic hold or bouncing of listserve emails.  Fret no more!  This new system will allow users to be engaged as little or as much as they’d like, allowing them to receive emails as they come, daily, weekly or by group.  It will also allow users to create their own profile page, and there will be a user-friendly directory.  Not only will there be searchable community discussions, but there will also be a library both universally and by group, for members to share forms, cases or documents.  The whole design is well laid-out and easy to use.

Once test groups are satisfied, we hope the system will be open to the membership by the annual meeting in October.  We trust that all of our members will soon learn, as is known by the very active real property listserve group, just how valuable (and simple) sharing collective wisdom is! Our intention is to have a demonstration station set up at the annual meeting so members can see our HUG in action and come give the communities a try.  Remember, we’re talking virtual HUGS here, although our members will be so happy with the product they will want to give hugs all around!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Legal Services Corporation Board Meets in Vermont for First Time – Recognizes Vermont Attorneys and Firm for Excellent Pro Bono Work

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was established by Congress in 1974 to promote equal access to justice by funding civil legal assistance for low-income Americans.  LSC awards grants through a competitive process, and currently funds 134 independent legal aid organizations, including Legal Services Law Line of Vermont.  Based in Washington, D.C., the LSC Board of Directors holds its quarterly Board meetings at different locations around the country, and is meeting for the first time in Vermont this week.

In conjunction with its Board meeting, the LSC organized a full day of presentations that featured many government and Judicial leaders in the access to justice field.  The day was capped off by a Pro Bono Awards Reception to recognize the excellent pro bono work of three Vermont attorneys and a Vermont law firm.  The day’s presentations included remarks by U.S. Representative Peter Welch, Governor Peter Shumlin, and LSC Board Chairman John Levi. Each spoke of the importance of the rule of law in American society, and the critical need to provide equal access to our system of justice.  A distinguished panel of jurists including U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Peter Hall, Chief Justice Paul Reiber, Justice Beth Robinson, U.S. District Judge Joseph LaPlante (NH), Justice Gary Hicks (NH), and Justice Andrew Mead (ME) participated in a panel discussion entitled “The Importance of Access to Justice to the Judiciary.” Each panelist spoke to different access to justice initiatives in their respective courts and jurisdictions.

Lisa Foster, the Director of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Access to Justice, moderated a panel discussion on Access to Justice in Canada, and, as the lunch speaker, spoke about different initiatives that the Department of Justice is undertaking to provide civil legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to legal counsel.  Her great work helped to form the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable which recognizes that legal aid provides real support to anti-poverty initiatives across all governmental agencies in their efforts to increase housing, healthcare, employment, education, family stability and public safety.

VBA Executive Director and Vermont Bar Foundation President Teri Corsones gave opening remarks at the evening’s LSC Pro Bono Service Award Reception sponsored by the VBA and the Chittenden County Bar Association.  Attorneys Sandra Baird, P. Scott McGee and Rebecca Rice, along with the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin, PLLC, were each recognized for their extraordinary commitment to equal justice.  Sandra Baird was recognized for her many years of work for the Saturday Free Walk-In Legal Clinic in Burlington and for Legal Services Law Line. Scott McGee from the firm Hershenson, Carter, Scott & McGee in Norwich, was recognized for the numerous pro bono cases involving complex legal matters related to family law, contracts, and home ownership that he has handled over the years. Rebecca Rice, from the firm Cohen & Rice in Rutland, was recognized for the high volume and often emergency bankruptcy cases that she has handled for low-income litigants, and Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC was recognized for its generous financial support for access to justice and pro bono programs. Attorneys Elizabeth Wohl, Paul Ode and Samantha Lednicky accepted the award on behalf of the firm.

Attorney Tom Garrett, Director of Legal Services Law Line of Vermont for the past 18 years, was also commended for his strong dedication to access to justice in Vermont. Tom will be retiring in August, 2016. Congratulations, Tom! 

Check out some pictures from the event, below...
 Hon. Peter Welch

 Hon. Peter Shumlin

 Esteemed Panel

 Engaged audience

 Our Justices

 Hon. Peter Hall

 Lisa Foster


Reception sponsors

 Great crowd, including Justice Robinson, Tom Garrett, Sam Abel-Palmer and David Koeninger in this photo.

 Sam Abel-Palmer and Jim May.

 Teri's AMAZING cake!

 What a view!

 Teri Corsones

Recipient Sandra Baird with LSC

 Recipient Scott McGee with LSC

 Recipient Rebecca Rice with LSC

 Recipients DRM with LSC