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High court votes down bar-dues petition, pro hac vice fee increase

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//February 23, 2018//

High court votes down bar-dues petition, pro hac vice fee increase

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//February 23, 2018//

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has voted to deny a Madison lawyer’s petition asking the justices to rein in how the State Bar of Wisconsin spends members’ mandatory dues.

Steve Levine
Steve Levine

Madison-based lawyer Steve Levine, a frequent critic and former State Bar president, put forward a proposal last year that would have the bar prepare two budgets – one for expenditures of mandatory bar dues and the other for voluntary bar dues. The same proposal 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 both 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 federal and state constitutions.

The court voted on Thursday afternoon in closed session to deny Levine’s petition, said Supreme Court Commissioner Julie Rich. She said that she was not authorized to disclose how the justices voted. She said an order setting out the court’s  reasons for denying the petition will be forthcoming early next week.

The court’s vote comes after the justices held a public hearing on the proposal in October. In December, Justice Michael Gableman gathered members of the court, bar representatives, Levine and state court officials to discuss the petition.  Also, at a State Bar Board of Governors meeting earlier this month, the governors unanimously approved changes to two of the bar’s policies after discussing Levine’s petition in closed session.

In other business on Thursday, the court voted to deny a petition filed by the Access to Justice Commission, a 17-person body that works to ensure poor Wisconsin residents have access to the civil-justice system.

The Access to Justice Commission filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in September proposing that the pro hac vice application fee be increased from $250 to $300.

Of the current fees, which the Office of Lawyer Regulation collects, the OLR and the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation each receive $100. The remaining $50 goes to the ATJ commission.

The group’s operations had been paid for by a State Bar reserve fund that ran out over the summer. Without an increase in pro hac vice fees, the commission will face a budget shortfall.

The justices also voted on Thursday to refer a different rule-change petition to the Board of Bar Examiners, which is a body charged by the Supreme Court with admitting attorneys to practice in the state and ensuring they fulfill their continuing-education requirements

The petition, filed in December by a Madison lawyer, alleges that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act when it requires lawyers to undergo character and fitness investigations after applying for admission to the state bar.

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