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Immediate
Christine Morganti
(505) 797-6028
cmorganti@nmbar.org

Vigil and Bosson Earn National Honors for Client Protection Program

Albuquerque, N.M.—The board of directors of the National Client Protection Organization unanimously selected Justice Richard C. Bosson of the Supreme Court of New Mexico and Charles J. Vigil, past president of the State Bar and the first chair of the Client Protection Fund Commission, as the joint recipients of the 2010 Isaac Hecht Law Client Protection Award. The award, presented June 4 at the American Bar Association’s 26th Law Client Protection Forum in Seattle, recognizes individuals or professional organizations that have demonstrated excellence in the filed of law client protection.

“In a sense,” states the official program for the awards ceremony, “the award goes to them as representatives of 8,600 members of the legal profession in New Mexico, lawyers and judges alike. The award, in fact, commemorates their persistence, leadership and success in establishing a viable and effective law client protection program in the State of New Mexico.”

The State Bar first established its Client Protection Fund in 1992 using commercial insurance for the payment of reimbursement claims. As claims increased each year, so did the insurance premiums. The upshot was the State Bar’s decision in 1999 to discontinue its insurance coverage because the premiums were equal to the amount of the policy. The following year the Supreme Court appointed a task force to make financial recommendations, which included a State Bar commitment of $25,000 annually from its general revenues, with a $2,500 cap on individual claims. That approach also failed. At the close of 2002, the fund’s assets had been depleted because of claims submitted arising from thefts by one member of the State Bar. The State Bar discontinued funding in 2003, and its Client Protection Fund was effectively terminated.

The State Bar requested help from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Client Protection in the hopes of reactiviting its protection program. Toward that end, the State Bar committed $50,000 in funding for claims in 2004 and 2005. Under the leadership of Vigil, the State Bar petitioned the Supreme Court to approve $551,000 in interim financing from unused funds from New Mexico’s Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Board and proposed a new structure for a client protection commission consistent with the ABA’s model rules.

Law client protection in New Mexico, by order of the Supreme Court, is currently administered by a commission under the auspices of the State Bar. The commission is comprised of members appointed by the Supreme Court and the State Bar. Vigil serves as the current chair and Justice Bosson serves as the commission’s liaison to the Supreme Court. Justice Bosson is also credited with a leading role in the Supreme Court’s decision in 2009 to establish a $15 annual assessment on each member of the State Bar to finance the Client Protection Fund.

The fund’s initial cap of $2,500 per claim has been increased to its current $10,000 limit. In four years, 70 clients have been reimbursed for a total of $209,887. All but eight client losses were fully reimbursed.

The commission is active in numerous projects and initiatives. It publishes educational materials for new and veteran lawyers. It has endorsed programs to require disclosure of malpractice insurance coverage and trust account overdrafts. Currently, the commission is working on a payee notification rule with New Mexico’s insurance regulating authority. Together with the State Bar, it is also active in the field of lawyer assistance with the goal of protecting clients by developing an early warning system for lawyers with alcohol and drug problems.

According to the NCPO, “In a multi-year joint effort, the State Bar and the Supreme Court, with the help of the American Bar Association, identified and overcame the structural and financial challenges to having an effective client protection program. Vigil and Justice Bosson were key players.”

The NCPO found the effort in New Mexico to be a “model of action and professionalism for bar associations, law societies, and client protection funds everywhere,” also noting that total reimbursement of client losses is still an aspiration.

Current members of New Mexico’s Client Protection Fund Commission are Chair Charles J. Vigil; Treasurer Henry A. Kelly; Secretary Daniel J. O’Brien; Hon. Richard C. Bosson; Briggs F. Cheney; Andrew J. (Drew) Cloutier; Gaelle D. McConnell; Stuart D. Shanor; State Bar Executive Director Joseph Conte; State Bar General Counsel Richard B. Spinello; and State Bar Program Administrator Christine Joseph.

“Clients of New Mexico lawyers are well served and protected by the efforts of the Supreme Court and the State Bar to re-establish a viable and sustainable client protection fund worthy of the Isaac Hecht Award,” said John Gleason, president of the NCPO.

To contact the State Bar’s Client Protection Fund, call (505) 797-6093 or 1-800-876-6227.

The State Bar of New Mexico was organized in 1886 and is composed of more than 8500 members. Its purposes are to aid the courts in administering justice and preserving the rule of law, and to foster a high standard of integrity and competence within the legal profession.