A bill critics say would reduce funding for legal services for the poor was sponsored by Gregory Sorg, a Republican from Easton, and heavily favored by North Country representatives.
The bill - HB 1395 - passed the House 235 – 99. It now goes to the Senate.
Eight North Country representatives – all Republicans – voted in favor.
Four North Country representatives – all Democrats – voted against it.
Four legislators were excused from voting.
The legislation would change how something called IOLTA works.
IOLTA stands for ‘Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts’.
When a client hands money over to a lawyer for a short period of time, say, while a real estate deal is being closed, the lawyer puts the money into a pooled account. That account earns interest.
For the past 30 years, the interest has been set aside to support legal representation for the poor. It’s done this way in all 50 states.
“It is an unbridled success,” says Jack Middleton. He’s Chair of the New Hampshire Bar Foundation, which distributes IOLTA funds.
“Over those 30 years, $28 million has been paid over to these endeavors, where, otherwise, there would be no funding available.”
Until December 2010, participation in IOLTA was voluntary for New Hampshire attorneys.
But when the recession hit, interest rates plummeted and the real estate market dried up. IOLTA funding fell off a cliff, dropping from nearly $2 million a year down to $800,000.
To help shore up the funds, the State Supreme Court decided to make IOLTA mandatory.
But that mandate hasn’t sat well with the small group of attorneys.
As NHPR reported Sorg sponsored the bill because he thinks the Supreme Court was “overreaching the bounds of authority of a judiciary.”
The bill would revoke the mandate and return IOLTA to a voluntary program.
North Country legislators voting in favor of the bill were:
* Lyle Bulis (Republican) of Littleton
* Duffy Daugherty (Republican) of Colebrook.
* Edmond Gionet (Republican) of Lincoln.
* Larry Rappaport (Republican) of Colebrook.
* Herb Richardson (Republican) of Lancaster
* Gregory Sorg (Republican) of Easton.
* John Tholl (Republican) of Whitefield
* Marc Tremblay (Republican) of Berlin
North Country legislators voting against the bill were:
* Gary Coulombe (Democrat) of Berlin
* Evalyn Merrick (Democrat) of Lancaster
* Robert Theberge (Democrat) of Berlin
* Yvonne Thomas (Democrat) of Berlin
North Country legislators excused from voting:
* Stephanie Eaton (Republican) of Littleton
* William Hatch (Democrat) of Gorham
* William Remick (Republican) of Lancaster
* Kathleen Taylor (Democrat) of Franconia
To see how legislators voted on other bills go here.