Apply for appointment to bar committees

Applications for appointment to State Bar committees in 1998-99 will be available this month. Attorneys interested in volunteering to serve on a bar committee may request an application for a 1998 appointment from the Appointments Office, State Bar of California, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco 94102-4498; 415/561-8855 or 213/765-1585.

The deadline to apply for appointment is March 2, 1998.

Judicial Council sets outreach meetings

The Judicial Councilís Special Task Force on Court/Community Outreach has scheduled four meetings and encourages public participation.

The meetings are: Jan. 14, John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana; Feb. 11, AOC, San Francisco; March 16, Best Western Hilltop, Redding; and April 13, Hyatt Regency, Los Angeles.

Individuals interested in attending a meeting may contact planning coordinator Shelley Stump, 415/396-9310.

Board to meet Dec. 12-13

The State Bar Board of Governors will hold its next regular meeting Dec. 12-13 at its San Francisco office at 555 Franklin St. Committees will meet Friday, Dec. 12, and the full board will meet Saturday at 9 a.m.

The agenda will be available from the secretary, 415/561-8200, or online at www.calbar.org.

Reporting requirements for punitive damages

The change in the 1997 federal instructions for reporting punitive damages on federal tax form 1099-MISC may affect attorneys or their clients. The federal change also applies to California information reporting.

All punitive damages, even those related to physical injury or physical sickness, are required to be reported on form 1099-MISC.

For information reporting purposes, the change applies for punitive damage payments made after Aug. 20, 1996.

Revenue Code Section 104(a)(2) has been modified to clarify the taxability of punitive damage payments related to personal physical injury or physical sickness. California Income Tax Law §17131 follows the federal law.

Punitive damages have always been taxable, but those related to physical injury or illness typically were not reported on information returns in the past.

According to the state Franchise Tax Board, punitive damages as well as damages awarded in non-physical injury cases do not qualify as compensation for injury or sickness. Punitive damages are a penalty based on misconduct. Therefore, all punitive damages, even those related to physical injury or sickness, are included in gross income and must be reported in accordance with 1099 information reporting requirements.

Information returns are required to be filed annually with the Franchise Tax Board and Internal Revenue Service. Individuals, partnerships, corporations or other organizations engaged in a trade or business in California may have a requirement to report payments made in the course of their business. Payments reportable on form 1099-MISC include payments of $600 or more for all punitive damages, any damages for non-physical injuries or sickness and any other taxable damages.

Payments made to corporations (other than payments for medical/health services) are not reportable.

Further information about reporting requirements is available from the state Franchise Tax Board, 916/845-6304, and the IRS, 304/263-8700.

Mandatory fee arbitration rules have changed

The bar board of governors voted to amend the guidelines, minimum standards and forms for mandatory fee arbitration.

The revisions, which reflect changes in the law, enable the bar to enforce mediated agreements which refund fees and/or costs to a client.

The rule changes require attorneys to notify clients of the right to arbitrate through the Mandatory Fee Arbitration program before initiating arbitration through another forum, and parties will have the right to disqualify a mediator as well as an arbitrator upon request.

Emeritus attorney program seeks volunteers

The State Barís emeritus attorney pro bono participation program offers retired attorneys the opportunity to contribute their valuable legal skills to assist low-income Californians. The bar waives the active membership fees of emeritus attorneys who volunteer through qualified legal services programs.

Attorneys may vary their level of involvement and do not need to have expertise in poverty law. Emeritus attorneys receive training, access to MCLE programs and malpractice insurance coverage through their local programs.

To be eligible, an attorney must be a member in good standing with the State Bar, have practiced law or served as a judge in California at least three of the last eight years, and have been admitted to practice law at least 10 years.

Further information is available from Eve Hershcopf in the barís office of legal services at 415/561-8213 or 1-800/628-4858.

Disaster planning manual available from State Bar

With El Nino rearing its ugly head, disasters may well be in Californiaís future this winter. In the past, when flood, earthquakes or other disasters have occurred, attorneys have generously volunteered their help.

Now the State Bar has prepared a comprehensive, newly published, 300-page training manual entitled the California Handbook for Disaster Legal Services. Geared for local bar associations which are seeking to create their own disaster response plan, the handbook can be used as a training manual as well.

Topics include disaster-related housing assistance programs, Small Business Administration loans, unemployment assistance, food stamps and other public assistance programs for disaster victims.

A wide range of experts and emergency services personnel contributed to the handbook, which was published with funds from the Foundation of the State Bar.

Bar associations, legal services and pro bono programs, and State Bar-certified lawyer referral services may each obtain one free copy of the manual (until the supply runs out). Others may purchase the handbook for $20; checks should be made payable to the State Bar of California and sent to Mary Holomon-Thomas, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco 94102.

Further information about the manual is available from Sharon Ngim, 1-800/628-4858 or 415/561-8267.

Children-at-risk forums planned in February

Addressing the legal needs of the 2.3 million California children who live in poverty is a top priority of State Bar President Marc Adelman.

At the barís mid-year conference Feb. 20-22, workshops and a plenary session devoted to a range of children-at-risk problems will be offered. Planners hope that youngsters who have received legal assistance will participate as panelists.

In addition, plans are underway to ask local bar associations to develop projects to meet childrenís legal needs. A letter encouraging attorneys to do pro bono work on behalf of children also was sent to bar associations last month.

Pamphlets available

Attorneys can help clients understand their legal rights and responsibilities with several pamphlets produced by the State Barís Office of Public Education.

Pamphlets cover basic problems involving subjects such as wills, debts, renting and buying a home, contracts, divorce and child custody. Some are available in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.

For information, call 415/561-8867.