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Dues fees, outside counsel on State Bar’s agenda

Wisconsin attorneys will pay $30 more in dues per year if the State Bar’s Board of Governors passes its proposed budget during its meeting Friday and Saturday.

The increase was discussed at the BOG’s meeting in January. Some BOG members expressed concern about the increase – the first since 2005 – though none recommended changes to the bar’s proposed $12 million budget.

Full dues amount to $224 a year, but that goes up to $460 with mandatory court assessments. If passed, full dues would be $254 starting July 1.

Bar leadership has said they expect the budget to pass as-is during the BOG’s meeting in La Crosse on Friday and Saturday.

“I’m hopeful we can take up the budget and have it passed on Friday afternoon,” State Bar President Patrick Fiedler said.

The budget is about $144,000 larger than the one for Fiscal Year 2013-14. The $30 increase would result in about $592,000 in increased revenue.

State Bar Finance Committee Chairman Nick Vivian has said that the bar would be more than $500,000 short of its proposed needs for the next year and could be forced to dip into its reserve accounts, as it has in recent years, if the increase isn’t passed. Any leftover money would go toward replenishing the bar’s reserves, which have been depleted in the past few years, Vivian has said.

The budget proposal also calls for a 4 percent raise for bar staff members, as well as to hire two people for the bar’s continuing legal education programs and its practice management help division.

Vivian did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

The bar is expected to have about $96,000 more than it budgeted for, due to the Supreme Court’s denial of a rules petition that would have restructured the amount in dues that emeritus and younger attorneys would pay.

Fiedler said the finance committee had two budgets ready in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s vote.

The bar will also be discussing how and why the it decides to hire outside counsel.

The discussion was sparked by an email sent to former State Bar Assistant Executive Director Lynda Tanner by BOG member Steve Levine, who questioned why the bar spent $27,688 to hire Bobbi Howell of Foley & Lardner LLP to represent them for a Supreme Court rules petition to give, in part, the BOG power to remove a governor. Fiedler hired Howell at the request of bar Executive Director George Brown.

“The sum of $27,688.70 seems excessive and wasteful,” according to Levine’s email. “The State Bar has a number of attorneys on staff. President Fiedler and Governor (Ray) Dall’Osto participated in the Supreme Court proceedings. These proceedings … were rulemaking, not litigation, yet outside counsel was retained.”

The court unanimously decided earlier this month that the BOG should not have that power, mainly because there was a clause in the BOG’s newly passed bylaws that said a BOG member could be removed if he or she “engages in conduct which is contrary to the best interest of the State Bar.”

Levine – who challenged the BOG’s petition in front of the court – said he will not be at this weekend’s meeting. However, he said the decision to hire an attorney should not just be made by the president, but by the BOG.

“Just having two people spend a huge amount like this is where the problem is,” Levine said.

Fiedler said Howell has a long history of representing the bar, dating to the early 1990s when attorneys filed lawsuits to make the bar voluntary.

The item is only listed as a “report,” which means that bar leadership will talk about the issue to the BOG. The BOG can take action if it chooses.


About Eric Heisig

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