Brown v. Legal Foundation of Wash., 538 U.S. 216, 5 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court. The State of Washington, like every other State in the Union, uses interest on lawyers' trust accounts (IOLTA) to pay for legal services provided to the needy. Some IOLTA programs were created by statute, but in Washington, as in most other States, the IOLTA program was established by the State Supreme Court pursuant to its authority to regulate the practice of law. In Phillips v. Washington Legal Foundation, 524 U. S. 156 (1998), a case involving the Texas IOLTA program, we held "that the interest income generated by funds held in IOLTA accounts is the 'private property' of the owner of the principal." Id., at 172. We did not, however, express any opinion on the question whether the income had been "taken" by the State or "as to the amount of 'just compensation,' if any, due respondents." Ibid. We now confront those questions.


As we explained in Phillips, id., at 160-161, in the course of their legal practice, attorneys are frequently required to hold clients' funds for various lengths of time. It has long been recognized that they have a professional and fiduciary obligation to avoid commingling their clients' money with

Schwartz and John D. Echeverria; for AARP et al. by John H. Pickering, Seth P. Waxman, Stephen W. Preston, Jody Manier Kris, Stuart R. Cohen, Rochelle Bobroff, Michael Schuster, Donald M. Saunders, Burt Neuborne, David S. Udell, and Laura K. Abel; for the American Bar Association by Alfred P. Carlton, Jr., Paul M. Smith, and Stephen M. Rummage; for the Conference of Chief Justices by Brian J. Serr, Drew S. Days III, Beth S. Brinkmann, and Seth M. Galanter; for the National League of Cities et al. by Timothy J. Dowling; for 49 State Bar Associations et al. by Richard A. Cordray, Joanne M. Garvey, Charles N. Freiberg, and Thomas P. Brown; and for the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court of Texas et al. by John Cornyn, Attorney General of Texas, Robert A. Long, Jr., Caroline M. Brown, Julie Caruthers Parsley, John M. Hohengarten, Darrell E. Jordan, and David J. Schenck.

Christopher G. Senior filed a brief for the National Association of Home Builders as amicus curiae.

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