January every two years is a goldmine for long-time bloggers and part-time comics like me. It provides just the sort of low-hanging fruit that I need to get the few remaining brain cells up off the couch and into some sort of athletic program.
I’m talking about the long session of the state legislature, which is sure to provide many moments of facepalming (kids still do that, right?) and with every new session comes a mighty challenger attempting to meet and surpass the high standard set by Senator Witkos.
This year, we have one such strong contender very early one: Rep. Christopher Davis of the 57th District thinks that it’s a splendid idea if any attorney who makes more than 50% of their annual income from state funds should be required to do 40 hours of pro bono service. The entirety of the bill is:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened: That the general statutes be amended to require that any person who is engaged in the practice of law and receives fifty per cent or more of his or her annual income from state funds shall complete not less than forty hours of pro bono legal work during the calendar year in which the income is earned.
I’ll tell you what is a great idea: pro bono. We should have lawyers doing more pro bono work; there is a glut of indigent defendants and plaintiffs who get screwed because they don’t have legal representation.
I’ll tell you what is a stupid idea: this bill. You know who’d be covered by this bill? Me. Every other public defender. Lots of private attorneys who represent criminal defendants as special public defenders or “assigned counsel”. Also: every prosecutor in this state. Would judges be covered? Perhaps. And he wants us to do 40 hours of mandatory pro bono work.
Putting aside the perhaps untrue joke that we criminal defense lawyers do pro bono work already (because our clients don’t pay us and those that do get paid by clients hardly ever get paid), there are several other problems with such an “idea”. For instance, could I stick to doing criminal work for free? Or would I be forced to learn and take up the practice of property law. Perhaps I could do a few closings a year or really slowly write a will or three (after all, is the State going to also monitor my 40 hours of pro bono?)
Who’s going to pay for my malpractice insurance? Oh, and who’s going to help me when I get fired for violating C.G.S 51-293(d)? Not familiar with 51-293(d)? No worries. That’s what I’m here for. 51-293(d) simply says:
(d) Each public defender, assistant public defender and deputy assistant public defender shall devote his full time to the duties of his office, shall not engage in the private practice of law, and shall not be a partner, member or associate of a law firm.
Oops. Rep. Davis would make lawbreakers of us all. Sorry, Rep. Davis, but I break the law on my own terms, not on the law’s terms.
That this is very low-hanging fruit is not in dispute; that this bill probably goes no further than one man’s fancy and one blogger’s delight is pretty set in stone, but the fact that it was actually proposed by someone who is elected to be our representative in the legislative body should give pause. And perhaps when we pause, we should think. It’ll be more than Rep. Davis did.