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Bar gears up for dues arbitration

The State Bar is gearing up for arbitration over the dues that members are supposed to pay for the bar’s 2016 fiscal year.

The bar’s Board of Governors on Wednesday approved taking $75,000 out of a line item for net surpluses and putting the money toward legal expenses. The change came in response to three letters objecting to the dues the bar plans to collect for the forthcoming fiscal year.

Objections to the dues have come from Steve Levine, a lawyer in Madison; Jon Kingstad, a lawyer in Oakdale, Minn.; and John Sobotik, a lawyer at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. All of them have complained about a $5.25 rebate the bar has offered to offset money that would be spent in the 2016 fiscal year on lobbying and political activities.

Sobotik has gone further, seeking a rebate of the entire dues amount he would otherwise have to pay. The 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.

READ THE LETTERS

George Brown, the bar’s executive director, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the budget adjustment approved by the Board of Governors will ensure the bar has enough money to pay for arbitration. He said the last time the bar went into arbitration, which was in 1995, it spent at least $80,000.

Brown also noted that the bar spent more than $100,000 when it was taken to court by Levine, Kingstad and a third lawyer, James Thiel, in 2008 over bar dues. The three had contended that money spent on a previous public-image campaign should have been included in a rebate for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, saying the campaign amounted to little more than propaganda for the bar.

Brown also said Wednesday that refunding all the money the bar spends on lobbying would make the rebate for an individual member worth about $20. The increase could prove troublesome, he said, because more members tends to take rebates as the amounts increase.

Asked by members if there were any settlement offers, Brown said bar representatives had proposed taking Levine, Kingstad and Sobotik’s bar dues and giving them to the legal-aid organizations of their choice. The offer was turned down, Brown said.

Levine said had he requested arbitration for two specific reasons. For one, the bar did not offer a rebate amount that would cover what it had spent on lobbying for the recent constitutional amendment that changed how the state Supreme Court’s chief justice is selected. The constitutional amendment, said Levine, was an important enough of a political issue that it should have been included.

The other reason, Levine said, is that he believes now is a good time to request arbitration, given a number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other cases limiting the legitimate uses of bar dues. For example, Levine has said that a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Harris vs. Quinn, shows that the Justices believe dues should be restricted to regulating the profession.

In Harris, the court ruled that thousands of home-health-care workers in Illinois could not be required to pay fees that help cover a union’s costs of collective bargaining. The Justices said that collecting the fees violated the First Amendment Rights of nonmembers who disagreed with the positions that unions take.


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

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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