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Madison attorney wants high court to change how bar spends dues — again

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//April 26, 2017//

Madison attorney wants high court to change how bar spends dues — again

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//April 26, 2017//

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Steve Levine
Steve Levine

A Madison lawyer is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to further rein in the types of lobbying activities the State Bar can pay for using members’ yearly dues.

Steve Levine, a frequent critic of the bar, petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday to require the bar to adopt the practice of preparing one budget for proposed expenditures of mandatory bar dues and a separate one for voluntary bar dues. The proposal also calls for further limiting how the bar can spend mandatory dues.

According to Levine’s memo, mandatory dues should be used only for five purposes:

  • Preparing and participating in Supreme Court rule change petitions;
  • administering the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Client Protection Fund;
  • administering the Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program, which helps lawyers with personal troubles;
  • offering legal advice to lawyers about complying with the rules of professional conduct; and
  • paying for programs approved by the high court after a hearing.

Levine has contended that the bar’s spending often oversteps the limits spelled out both in Keller and state rules. As a result, members might have been made to pay for speech that they either don’t agree with or which they would prefer to not engage in.

Levine and two other lawyers recently disputed the Keller dues rebate the bar had provided for its 2016 fiscal year. Levine and his fellow critics argued the rebate amount — $5.25 — was too low. Specifically, they questioned the bar’s lobbying work on legislation that would have placed limits on the number of terms state Supreme Court justices can serve, established a pay-progression system for district attorneys and increased the private rate for attorneys who take State Public Defender appointments.

In the bar’s 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, Levine and various other lawyers had also challenged the bar’s use of mandatory dues to pay for a public advertising campaign. They concurrently filed a petition for a rule change meant to place further limits on the use of the dues.

The challenge went all the way to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found in 2010 that the state’s rules for Keller dues were too narrow. The high court adopted the 7th Circuit’s holdings as well as various other changes proposed by Levine and his fellow critics.

Levine’s current proposal would set even stricter limits.


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