In case you missed this back in February when we warned you about it…
The Louisiana State Bar Association passed a resolution last month to support a bill that would seek higher license fees from non-attorney notaries, and redistribute that money to pay for indigent civil defense provided by members of the state bar.
It’s no surprise that the state bar is clamoring for more funding for indigent defense; they’ve been howling about it for decades. But this is obnoxious on a couple of levels.
First, if there is any effort at actual fundraising to support that aim, it’s low-key enough to have escaped our notice. Running to the legislature in an attempt to compel people to pay the freight seems to be the first idea anybody over there had. Which is obnoxious.
And second, this has the special affrontery of demanding that the competition be taxed to pay for indigent defense. Lawyers are notaries too, you know, and this resolution doesn’t say everybody who’s a notary should be paying an increase in the license fee – it says non-attorney notaries should be paying the increase. And it lays out why, outlining the fact that non-attorney notaries do lots of things only lawyers get to do in other states, which is a gripe about how these guys are horning in on their action.
As though the public honestly cares about the lawyers’ problems in a state where their faces are all over local TV and on every other billboard.
What we didn’t realize at the time, and missed a detail which makes this even worse, is this is about providing indigent people with free lawyers in civil cases. Not criminal cases. We all agree we want public defenders for criminal defendants. This is about paying attorneys to do pro bono work in civil cases, which they agree to do when they’re sworn in to the bar.
And they’re trying to tax their competition – namely, notaries who handle a lot of the simple paperwork that you’d otherwise pay a lot more to get a lawyer to do for you – to get a subsidy for handling their loss-leader cases.
Let’s understand this isn’t about broke people who get sued. Broke people who get sued don’t really need lawyers all that much – they’re what’s known as “judgement-proof,” because they don’t have any money for a plaintiff to take should they lose in the lawsuit. That’s one reason why you hear about the big companies at the periphery of legal actions being added as defendants – the lawyers for the plaintiffs are always trying to find a deep pocket they can access. In torts classes in law schools all over America are long discussions based on fact patterns involving economically (and behaviorally) disadvantaged tortfeasors who create chaos, and students spout out creative theories regarding the civil liability of corporate America from the thinnest reeds of potential liability. It’s frankly a disgusting spectacle and it’s one very good reason people cannot stand trial lawyers.
This is about other things – family law, wills and trusts and other more mundane legal services, for which most broke people need only the basic legal work. It’s usually barely more than a notary is capable of handling – and the paperwork for this kind of stuff can very often be had at LegalZoom for almost nothing, rather than paying a lawyer to draw it up. But that basic legal work, which an attorney in private practice could knock out four or five times a day and pick up $50 or $100 a pop for, can keep a lot of starving attorneys with working lights and a shingle on the wall. So why not tax the competition who undercuts you by charging $20 or $30 to do most of the same stuff?
The idea a bill like this could ever pass is enough to make a reasonable person hate politicians every bit as much as lawyers. We expressed doubt that anybody in the legislature would put his or her head on the chopping block by introducing so obnoxious a bill.
And we were wrong. We give you HB 453, by Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans)…
He’s doubling the fee for notaries to file their annual reports, and essentially forcing them to pay tribute to the lawyers for the purpose of subsidizing them to do a lot of stuff for poor people notaries can do more cheaply.
There’s a feudal quality to this which ought to make voters gag, and the fact Abramson actually allowed the bar association to convince him to bring it should potentially mark his end as a viable political entity. Word has it that his future (he’s term-limited after this term) includes switching parties to Republican and running for the Senate in Conrad Appel’s district in 2019 – and he’s taken some actions in advance of that by turning the Ways and Means Committee into a roadblock for John Bel Edwards’ taxes.
But if Abramson actually moves this bill, rather than just allowing himself to be used as its author before dumping it in the session – which is something lots of legislators do in order to get constituents off their backs – the folks who have elected a legitimate conservative like Appel in the last three cycles should dismiss him out of hand for filing such an egregrious, vicious little bill such as this one. Taxing your competition for the purpose of paying yourself to do something you’d already agreed to do for free is one of the most textbook examples of the abuse of government, and it proves to the people who hate lawyers they were right all along.