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Questionable conduct at the State Bar’s BOG meeting

Madison attorney Steve Levine is a past president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Madison attorney Steve Levine is a past president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

At its meeting June 12 at the Marriott West in Madison, the State Bar’s Board of Governors took a number of breathtaking steps which you had to witness to fully understand. But for those of you who weren’t there, in a nutshell, here is some of what happened:

• The Board of Governors moved to quash dissent by adopting a bylaw that allows the board to remove a member of the board for “conduct outside office which is contrary to the best interest of the State Bar.” The bylaw does not define what constitutes “conduct … contrary to the best interest of the State Bar.”

An amendment offered by me to exclude conduct or advocacy protected by the First Amendment from being a basis for removal was soundly defeated. With the board’s rejection of the proposed amendment to protect advocacy and free speech, what other purpose could this bylaw have than to discourage dissent and quash critical expression?

• The Board of Governors voted to eliminate funding for three longstanding State Bar committees, even though one of the committees offered to continue working at no cost to the State Bar. As a result, the State Bar’s committees on Professionalism, Board of Bar Examiners Review, and Unauthorized Practice of Law no longer exist.

Apparently, the problems of unprofessional conduct, unauthorized practice of law and changing bar admission standards are no longer worth the attention of the State Bar.

Particularly with respect to professionalism, abolishing this committee sends the wrong signal to both members of the profession and the general public. If the State Bar is not concerned with professionalism among members of the bar, who should be? What was the Board of Governors thinking?

• The Board of Governors elected a delegate to the American Bar Association who, it was pointed out by his opponent, was not a member of the ABA. This move was contrary to specific language of a State Bar bylaw that requires ABA membership at the time of election.

When this was pointed out at the meeting, State Bar Director George Brown told the board that the State Bar’s practice has been to require ABA membership only after a candidate is elected; in effect, disregarding the language of the bylaw.

On Law Day, May 1, the State Bar celebrated the importance of the rule of law. But then in June, the Bar intentionally violated its own bylaw. Not an example to be proud of.

I feel bad for the candidate who followed the rules and was rejected by the Board of Governors. I am embarrassed, but not surprised, at the Bar’s failure to follow its own bylaw.

• After the June 12 meeting, the Board of Governors partied hearty at the swearing-in reception and ceremony for new State Bar President Pat Fiedler. Beer and wine flowed freely as movers and shakers from all over the state paid their respects and made special requests of the new president, as custom dictates that no State Bar president can deny a favor on the day of his inauguration. I offer my congratulations, good luck, and wish a successful year to President Fiedler!

Board of Governors’ partying will continue in September, when the Board holds its next meeting at a resort in Trego, Wis. (Washburn County), costing thousands of dollars more than the cost of a meeting at State Bar headquarters in Madison.

Next year the bar will be surprising you with a double whammy dues increase – one general, one special for emeritus members – based on a dire need for more money. But when it comes to spending your dues for the luxury and comfort of the Board of Governors, no penny is to be pinched. Again, not the kind of example the Bar should be setting.

Such are current events in the State Bar. If you are frustrated by them and want change, please run for the Board of Governors. Please. It’s not too soon to begin planning your campaign for next spring.

Part of the reason the Bar does things like those cited above is a belief that what you, as members, don’t know won’t hurt it. So, special thanks to the Wisconsin Law Journal for giving me the space to publicize what is being done with your dues dollars. An informed electorate can make the necessary changes.

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