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14 Wisconsin attorneys want voluntary bar — through a rule change

14 Wisconsin attorneys want voluntary bar — through a rule change

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A Madison attorney and long-time advocate of a voluntary bar is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to make the State Bar voluntary through a rule-change proceeding.

Steve Levine, a past State Bar president and frequent critic of the bar, filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday a petition calling for just such a rule change. He listed 13 other lawyers as co-petitioners, including the Milwaukee attorney Steven Glick, Minnesota attorney Jon Kingstad and Madison attorney John Sobotik.

The rule-change petition comes nearly a month after two other attorneys, Adam Jarchow and Michael Dean, filed a federal lawsuit against the State Bar over the same matter.

That lawsuit is pending in the Western District of Wisconsin. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker agreed on Thursday to give the State Bar more time to file an answer to Jarchow and Dean’s complaint.

Both challenges rely on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to bolster their argument for ending mandatory bar dues. Decided last year, Janus v. AFSCME overturned a decades-old decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The Abood case let states require public employees to pay some fees to unions even though those workers had chosen not to join a labor group.

Despite the similarities, there are differences between Levine’s proposal and the federal lawsuit. One big one is that Levine is asking the court to institute a voluntary bar simply by amending its rules. More specifically, the proposal asks the justices to repeal and amend sections of Chapter 10 of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules and Operating Procedures.

Levine is asking for the justices to hold a public hearing on the request before the end of the year and is suggesting that the changes take effect July 1, 2021, to allow for a smooth, orderly transitioin.

In his memo to the court, Levine called on the justices to make the switch to a voluntary bar using a rule change instead of through litigation.

“By making State Bar membership voluntary in a rule-making proceeding, this Court retains control over the direction and timing of the process; and the time, expense, and other burdens of litigation are avoided,” he wrote.

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