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Home / Legal News / Justices OK overhaul of state class-action rule, defer decision on bar dues proposal

Justices OK overhaul of state class-action rule, defer decision on bar dues proposal

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has voted to change the state’s class action rule to mirror the federal rule but deferred a decision on whether to adopt new rules for how the Wisconsin State Bar should spend members’ dues.

The court voted in closed conference on the two proposals after hearing public testimony from lawyers and other practitioners. The justices voted last term to close to the public their deliberations on proposed rules.

The changes to the state’s class-action rule would repeal the state’s statute governing class actions and replace it with language from the comparable federal rule.

The proposal was filed in March by the Wisconsin Judicial Council, a 21-member independent body made up of judges, lawyers and lawmakers who study and recommend changes to the state’s rules of procedure and evidence.

The justices voted unanimously to approve the Judicial Council’s proposal. An order will soon be coming out, said Supreme Court Commissioner Julie Rich. She said the change will probably take effect on July 1, 2018.

As for Madison lawyer Steve Levine’s proposal to further rein in how the Wisconsin State Bar spends lawyers’ mandatory dues, Rich said the court was putting the proposal on hold so that the justices could do more research.

The justices are planning to meet in closed conference on the proposal in December, she said.

Levine, both a frequent critic of the bar and a former State Bar president, is proposing that the bar prepare one budget for proposed expenditures of mandatory bar dues and a separate one for voluntary bar dues and that the bar be further constrained in the activities on which it may spend mandatory bar dues.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts decisions have 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 profession or improving legal services. Thus, the State Bar must let lawyers choose every year to take back part of their dues. The exact amount to be refunded is calculated by tallying up the bar’s spending on lobbying and other activities that fall outside of what’s allowed as held by the courts.

Levine and his supporters contend that the practice does not go far enough to protect lawyers’ constitutional rights.

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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