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Members object to some State Bar dues

Three attorneys are objecting to the State Bar dues they will be expected to pay for the bar’s 2016 fiscal year.

At a meeting to be held Wednesday at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva, the bar’s Board of Governors is scheduled to discuss three letters that are critical of the dues that are to be collected for the following year.

Two of the letter writers argue that they should be getting more back from a dues rebate meant to prevent their money from being spent on lobbying endeavors that go beyond training lawyers and improving legal services. The letters were written by Steve Levine, a lawyer in Madison, and Jon Kingstad, a lawyer in Oakdale, Minn.

Levine, a past president of the board of governors and a frequent critic of the bar and its spending, complained that a $5.25 rebate recently offered by the bar was not enough. He said Tuesday that the bar should be offering to pay back any money spent on lobbying, which he said is done for political purposes and not to regulate the legal profession or improve legal services.

His complaints are grounded in the case of Keller vs. State Bar of California. In it, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state bars may not use mandatory dues to pay for political purposes unless the money is put, in some way, toward regulating the legal profession or improving legal services. If the dues are used for something beyond those limited purposes, then a bar must give members a way to object and somehow retrieve what was misspent.


Levine, in his letter, requested that the bar choose from among three former state circuit-court judges — Angela Bartell, William Eich and Mark Frankel — to act as an arbiter in his dispute with the bar. Levine also offered to withdraw his request for arbitration if the bar agreed to provide a refund of all the disputed expenditures on lobbying.

Kingstad, whose letter echoed the concerns about the bar’s lobbying expenses, wrote that he agrees with Levine’s terms. His letter specifically mentions that he is concerned about the State Bar’s spending on formal debates held for candidates for the state Supreme Court and attorney general’s office.

The third letter, written by John Sobotik, a lawyer at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, complained not only about the rebate amount but all the dues – totaling $254 – that the bar plans to collect for 2016. Sobotik wrote that the money is not being used to educate or regulate lawyers and that the State Bar’s continuing-education division pays for itself.

Sobotik’s letter also listed objections to a $50 fee the bar plans to collect to provide legal services to the indigent. Sobotik wrote that the fee will not used to regulate the bar and that, while it might be going to a noble purpose, it is in fact a tax that must first be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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