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Bar revises Keller reduction, records access policies (UPDATE)

The Wisconsin State Bar Board of Governors has adopted changes to its policies that include allowing members to more easily access certain information about the bar’s finances and employees.

The changes come as the Wisconsin Supreme Court considers a proposal that would put more restrictions on how the bar spends member dues.

The Madison-based lawyer Steve Levine, a frequent critic and former State Bar president, has put forward a proposal that would have the bar prepare two budgets. One would cover proposed expenditures of mandatory bar dues and the other voluntary bar dues. It would also more narrowly define the types of activities on which the bar can spend mandatory dues.

Levine has contended that some of the bar’s lobbying activities, including pushing for an increase in judicial salaries and a change to the term lengths of state Supreme Court justices, go beyond what’s allowed by both case law and the state and Wisconsin constitutions.

The court held a public hearing on the proposal last year and discussed it but has not yet made a decision on whether to approve it.

The board on Friday unanimously approved changes to two of its policies after discussing Levine’s petition in closed session.

One change adds language that says the board will include expenses incurred from direct lobbying of the Wisconsin Legislature and the U.S. Congress in calculating the amount lawyers can choose to take back from their dues. That amount is known as the Keller dues reduction.

The board, after the vote on the two policies, approved a $9.95 Keller dues reduction.

The second change the bar approved Friday modifies the bar’s policy for allowing access to the records of bar employees.

The revised policy lets all members of the bar, not just officers and members of the Board of Governors, access information online about how much bar employees are paid. The information would show various salary ranges and which ranges all bar employees fall within. The employees would only be identified by their positions, not by their names.

Executive Director Larry Martin said Friday that he hopes to have the information available online to all members by March 1.

The revised policy also lets members more easily access information on the bar’s finances, such as budgets and audits. The bar’s website has had that change in place since December, said Martin.

He and Bar President Paul Swanson said Friday that the policy changes were made in part because of concerns brought to the bar’s attention at the hearing. Martin noted that the idea for the changes also came out of some things he had been thinking of doing after taking on his new role as executive director.

Levine, reached Saturday, declined to comment on the policies the bar approved at Friday’s meeting.

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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