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Attorneys continue the fight for voluntary bar (UPDATE)

Steve Levine

Attorneys Steve Levine and Jim Thiel are petitioning the state Supreme Court again to make the State Bar of Wisconsin voluntary.

Justices on June 1, with a 4-3 ruling, nixed the attorneys’ latest petition after deciding it lacked the detail necessary to warrant a public hearing. But on June 30, Levine and Thiel filed an amended petition to abolish the integrated bar.

The petition also seeks to void the Keller dues rebate bylaw. Since its adoption in 1993, the Keller reduction lets attorneys avoid paying for the State Bar’s political activities. The bylaw, according to the petition, would be unnecessary with a voluntary bar.

“The whole idea with the first petition was for the court to decide whether the bar should be mandatory or voluntary and then decide what form it should take,” Levine said.

The justices declined to make that decision, absent a plan for how the bar would function as a voluntary entity, Levine said.

“It would still be up to the court,” he said. “But the easiest thing is to make the bar voluntary and keep the structure of the bar to still collect dues and assessments.”

Tom Solberg, bar spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The amended petition is more specific than the rejected version in that the new petition seeks revisions to Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 10, including removal of language that refers to mandatory membership. But the petition attempts to maintain the administrative structure of the bar, including monetary penalties for nonpayment of Supreme Court assessments.

The State Bar was first made mandatory in 1956. A federal district court in 1988 declared the mandate unconstitutional. That decision was overturned in 1992, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the mandatory bar.

Levine said given the importance of the issue, he expects the court will schedule the petition for a public hearing at some point.


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