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Commentary: State Bar train off track?

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//January 23, 2024//

State Bar of Wisconsin. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

Commentary: State Bar train off track?

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//January 23, 2024//

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Nick Zales
Milwaukee attorney Nick Zales serves as the District II Member of the State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors.

By Nick Zales

On Jan. 25, 2024, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will take up the State Bar of Wisconsin‘s Rules petition (23-04) to enlarge the Board of Governors (BOG). The petition, filed in June of 2023, almost breathlessly states the June 2021 vote to enlarge the Board was “unanimous.”  After careful thought, I wrote the Court in opposition to the proposal. My objection is based on the fact the Board had no idea it was voting to grant a new seat with a vote on the BOG to anyone. I was at that 2021 meeting serving as a bar governor from Milwaukee County. No notice was given to the BOG the bar was even filing this petition. And why did they wait for two years?

The standard procedure at the BOG dating back to my first term of service in 1995 is that any item of any importance is first discussed at one meeting, and then voted on at another. Items up for discussion are clearly designated as such as are items that are up for a vote. That did not happen here.

Not once in the entire bar year of 2020-2021 was the proposal to grant a BOG vote to a Section Leader’s Council member discussed, much less voted on.

Instead, the proposal was slipped into a 300-plus page agenda as a “consent agenda” item.

The “consent agenda” is for innocuous items, typically a proposal by a Section to amend its by-laws. The June 2021 agenda does include a lengthy description of what was in the consent agenda, mostly referring to changes to “gender-neutral” language in by-laws. Still, there is nothing to alert any member of the BOG that it was voting to expand the BOG. There was no discussion of this proposal. In my opinion, there was no vote on it either.

State Bar members have said to me, “Why are you bothering with this, it is a trivial matter?”

My response has been that the composition of the BOG is not a trivial matter.

In bypassing our standard procedure in addressing important items, we are not fulfilling the role the Court designed for us.

Moreover, this is not an isolated incident. Over the past few years of my service on the BOG, I have noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of relevant and material information the BOG receives. That must stop. Significant proposals regarding courses of action the State Bar engages in must be discussed and approved by the BOG at the beginning, and not in the middle or near the end when the “freight train” of bar policy is rolling down the tracks at breakneck speed.

If the composition of the BOG is to change and a member of the Section Leaders Council is granted a vote, it should be done the normal way. On the BOG agenda first as a discussion item and then an action item. It should not be done with no notice and no vote on that item specifically. A change in the BOG’s composition does not belong on a consent agenda.

I do object to the proposal because BOG members with a vote should be elected by our members specifically for the purpose. That is not the case with this proposal.  If the Court rejects the petition and it is brought before the BOG in the usual way, and it prevails, I would accept that. As it is, that did not happen. That is why I object.

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