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Despite setback, voluntary bar push will continue

Despite setback, voluntary bar push will continue

A switch to a voluntary State Bar will take more than a few deletions to the current rules governing membership.

But after a failed attempt Wednesday to convince the state Supreme Court that the mandatory bar should be abolished, Madison attorney Steve Levine said he plans to take that approach in another bid to convince the court.

“The simplest solution will be to take out all of the language in the current rule that requires mandatory membership,” he said. “Leave the rest as is and structurally, the bar can continue the way it is now.”

Left to the court, Levine said, will be how to proceed with implementing the financial and regulatory elements associated with the change.

That may not be a task members of the court are willing to tackle, however, based in part on its Wednesday denial of Levine and attorney Jim Thiel’s petition to institute a voluntary bar.

In a 4-3 vote, the court decided that the proposal submitted Feb. 11 lacked enough detail to warrant even a public hearing. The petition did not include any financial or administrative specifics as to how the bar would function as a voluntary entity.

Several members of the court said they did not want to proceed with any proposal to change the membership status of the bar before knowing what the ramifications would be, and that the petitioners could re-file a more detailed petition.

The only request made in the denied petition was that the court “amend, repeal or recreate” the Supreme Court Rules that govern the structure of the bar to make it voluntary.

“This would be a significant undertaking,” said Supreme Court Commissioner Julie Rich of a switch to a voluntary bar.

“Obviously, there would need to be a discussion about dissolution of assets, which wasn’t included in the petition,” she said. “I have a little trouble with conceptual rules hearings.”

Levine said the denied petition was intentionally broad, to allow the court to devise a structure for a voluntary bar, after its adoption.

In Levine’s second attempt, the timing of which is uncertain at this time, he said he plans to provide more detail on how the rule should be changed. But it is up to the court, he said, to determine how it would implement a voluntary bar, since they are currently responsible for regulating the profession.

“I think that is about as reasonable a goal as I would expect,” he said. “All the other global implications are huge, but let the court decide if the bar will be voluntary first.”

Some members of the court said they wouldn’t be receptive to any voluntary bar petition, however, regardless of detail.

“I favor an integrated bar. Period,” Justice David Prosser said.

He was joined by Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Patience Roggensack, who said she felt the integrated bar is a good system, although the topic should be open for discussion.

“I’d like to listen to them and have them tell me why this is a good idea,” Roggensack said. “I know the idea of a voluntary bar is a deeply held view, however, I don’t think the court should be doing the work of the folks filing the petition.”

If a proposal does come back to the court, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said she would prefer a resolution to the issue.

“We can vote up or down on it so we don’t waste a lot of people’s time,” she said.

Attorney Nate Cade, a staunch supporter of a mandatory bar, said he would prefer the court’s Wednesday ruling to be the end of the debate, though.

“However, I’m sure those who have been defeated will continue to press on until someone says yes,” he said. “Hopefully, not anytime in my lifetime.”

Jack Zemlicka can be reached at [email protected].


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