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Bar’s Board of Governors to take another crack at removal bylaw

The State Bar’s Board of Governors may try again to gain the power to remove one of its own from office.

This time, though, it is going to try to avoid the controversy that surrounded its last attempt.

BOG and governance committee member Brian Anderson, who has been working on an overhaul of the bar’s bylaws, said he wants to include a provision that would allow the board to remove a governor if it feels the move is warranted.

“We should at least have some removal provisions instead of nothing at all,” Anderson told BOG during its meeting Saturday in La Crosse.

The board overwhelmingly approved a specific bylaw in June 2013 that would have given it the power to remove a governor if 75 percent of the total board voted in favor. However, the state Supreme Court struck down the bylaw in April, mainly because it included wording that said the BOG could remove a governor if he or she “engages in conduct which is contrary to the best interest of the State Bar.”

BOG member Steve Levine, a frequent critic of the bar, said the bylaw, as written, would have stifled free speech.

Bar President Patrick Fiedler has said the point of the bylaw was to give the board the ability to remove somebody when something serious arises, such as a governor committing a crime. This situation has not happened in Wisconsin, but Fiedler and others said they wanted such a rule on the books for the future.

Fiedler, in an interview Saturday, reiterated that the push for removal power “has never been about targeting a certain governor.”

Anderson said Monday that he thinks changes in the bylaw rewrite would include listing more specific offenses for which a governor could be removed, instead of using broad terms to encompass a variety of situations. He said the bylaw should lay out rules so clear that “there should be no question in anyone’s mind for a justification for removing a governor from the board.”

He added that he thinks a rewrite should be as “noncontroversial” as possible.

The majority of the other proposed changes to the bylaws, which Anderson has taken the lead on drafting, are designed to reorganize them and make them more readable. Under his plan, the board would have to approve the new bylaws and then petition the state Supreme Court to change its rules to synch up.

“Our perception is that [the court] would rather be bothered by some of the bigger picture things,” instead of the minutiae that comprises the bylaws, Anderson said.

Anderson’s term as governor ends June 30, but he said he hopes another governor picks up where he leaves off. The rewrite has not yet been voted on by the governance committee, of which Anderson is a member, so the full BOG is not expected to see it for some time.

A similar effort was made in 2004. At the time, the BOG voted to bring the changes in front of the state Supreme Court, but the bar never filed anything, Anderson said.

In the 2004 draft, a BOG member could be removed if 66 percent of the board had voted for their removal, Anderson said.

“I think we need to change that, obviously, to conform to what the Supreme Court would find acceptable,” he said.

The BOG discussed the removal bylaw during a closed session Saturday morning. The session concluded with no action being taken.

About Eric Heisig

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