President's Message Mar/Apr 2019

Bugs, Briefs, and Betting –
A Mid-Term Report

Carolyn R. Barone, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

“To all new lawyers, know your value and what you bring to the table. It equals that of our experienced attorneys. You are the future of the Rhode Island Bar Association.”   
As president of the Rhode Island Bar Association, I have had the opportunity to travel out of state and meet bar officers and executives throughout the United States and its territories. These opportunities have arisen in connection with the New England Bar Association and the National Conference of Bar Presidents. Out of the six New England states, only the Rhode Island and New Hampshire bar associations are unified (meaning membership is mandatory). The New England Bar Association has one Annual Meeting that takes place in October, and the site of the meeting rotates from one state to the next.

This past October, Vermont was the host state and the meeting was held at the Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont. Rhode Island was represented by current and past RI Bar officers, our executive director, Helen McDonald, and the Honorable Paul Suttell, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The opening seminar featured the Chief Justices who were asked to highlight the most pressing judicial issues now facing that state’s legal system. I had little doubt that Chief Justice Suttell was going to address the influx of self-represented litigants in our state courts, including the Supreme Court, as being this state’s most pressing issue. I was wrong. At the time of this October 2018 meeting, Chief Justice Suttell announced that his most pressing issue was the influx of bed bugs in the Garrahy Complex and how to get rid of them while keeping the employees, litigants, and lawyers safe from bug bites. Although attendees in the audience chuckled, no other Chief Justice on the panel was laughing. Each of them admitted their struggles with the insects and echoed their frustration in keeping these uninvited guests out of their own courthouses.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. All seems to be quiet at One Dorrance Plaza. Periodic reports confirm that those pesky little cimex lectularius finally got very bored listening to arraignments, “T&E” trials (of which they were often major players, by the way) and nominal divorce hearings (where they never could grasp the concepts of “different lifestyles” and “growing apart”) and, therefore, moved on and out. From my selfish point of view, I kept scratching my head while wondering, with trepidation, whether their presence was going to be my legacy as your bar president. May there be no sequel to this story.

I had previously reported to the membership that in May 2018, the RI Supreme Court Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee submitted (to the Court) separate reports containing specific findings and recommendations following investigational hearings on three complaints filed with the UPL Committee. All three complaints arose out of separate real estate transactions and alleged that non-attorneys, absent authority, had engaged in various facets of the real estate closing process. The Rhode Island Supreme Court issued separate orders on June 18, 2018 and directed that all three matters be assigned for oral argument, and that each respondent be prepared to argue specific issues set forth in the Court’s orders as it pertained to that individual respondent. The Supreme Court also invited the Rhode Island Bar Association and other interested parties to file briefs as amici curiae.1 Through the efforts of our members, specifically Nicole Benjamin, Tom Lyons and Richard Ratcliffe, the Bar Association’s amici briefs have been filed. In addition, a motion has been filed by our attorneys to participate in oral argument before the Supreme Court. As of the time I am writing this message, the Supreme Court has not addressed our motion to argue and has not assigned the cases for oral argument. I will keep you posted.

I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to Attorneys Benjamin, Lyons and Ratcliffe for the incredible amount of time and effort they have willfully devoted to the research and writing of the Association’s briefs. They are volunteers, and despite their heavy caseloads and commitments, not only to their private clients who pay for their services but to their firms, as well, they performed yeomen’s work on our behalf. The quality of their work on these briefs is without parallel. When you have an opportunity, please make a point to thank them for their time and efforts.

While I am on this subject, I want to highlight the work of another Bar Association volunteer, your past president, Armando Batastini. Armando served as bar president from 2016-2017. From the time his term ended, he has not stopped volunteering his services to the Association. At the moment he is working on issues integral to the Bar. Please, when you see Armando, say, “Thank you.”

Allow me to change gears for the moment and address how you can be a volunteer. Rhode Island will celebrate Law Day on Friday, May 3, 2019. The theme is, “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” The purpose of Law Day, a day of national celebration, is to have American citizens reflect on the role law plays in every facet of their lives and what their lives would be like without the rule of law. The Bar Association, the RI Judiciary and RI public and private schools celebrate in concert by having teams of judges and lawyers travel to schools and engage with students on what freedoms of speech and press and a free society mean to them. Be a part of this discussion, and place these students on a path toward protecting these freedoms for themselves and for future generations. Consider this to be the best civics lesson in which you will ever participate. The Bar Association will provide you with all the materials you need to engage with the students and make this a successful partnership. Back in the day, asking the question, “Can you shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater?” began and ended the discussion on freedom of speech. That day has changed. Think “Colin Kaepernick.” Think “Fake News.” Think “Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram.” Think about the positive impact you will have on 7th through 12th grade students who are dealing with these issues daily. Being an active participant in Law Day is a great way to fulfill your sworn duty and obligation as a lawyer to defend the Constitution and uphold the rule of law.

I am embarrassed to tell you that this will be my first involvement with Law Day. For 38 years, I came up with every lame excuse possible not to volunteer. I finally got the message. If you have any hesitation about joining me in being a part of Law Day 2019, call me and we will chat. For now, let me leave it at, “Don’t be like Carolyn. Be like Nicole, Armando, Tom and Richard.” Be a volunteer for Law Day.

 In January of this new year, I attended the mid-year meeting of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, an organization providing information and training to state and local bar association leaders. The programs run from morning to late afternoon and address topics germane to unified bars, as well as voluntary, local and infinity bars. The NCBP meeting I just attended took place at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. I want to share with you my takeaway from this meeting. Through the hard work of our executive director, the Bar staff, our House of Delegates, Executive Committee, and standing committees, the state of the Rhode Island Bar Association is excellent. We have in place long-standing member benefits that other bar associations are just now thinking about. Other
Bar Associations are amazed that we offer and sustain a two-day annual meeting packed with CLE seminars, outside speakers, and over a thousand lawyers in attendance. To sustain this success, we need the involvement of all members. We need you on our committees. We need you to make the commitment and become an officer. To all new lawyers, know your value and what you bring to the table. It equals that of our experienced attorneys. You are the future of the Rhode Island Bar Association.

Let me do a quick recap. Bugs? Check. Briefs? Check. Betting? Let’s do an about-face and go back to Caesar’s Palace. I am neither now, nor have I ever been, a gambler. However, while at the NCBP conference in January, I stumbled upon one of only two 25-cent slot machines in the entire Caesar’s Palace casino. I begrudgingly took out a five-dollar bill, put it in the machine, and started pressing a button and continued pressing that button until I saw I had 30 credits. That was enough for me. I cashed out and came home $7.50 richer. Anything else that happened in Vegas is staying in Vegas.


See In re Daniel S. Balkun and Balkun Title & Closing, Inc., No. 2018-162-M.P. (UPLC 2017-1); In re SouthCoast Title and Escrow, Inc., No. 2018-163—M.P. (UPLC 2017-7); and In re William E. Paplauskas, Jr. No. 2018—161-M.P. (UPLC 2015—6).