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COMMENTARY: State Bar Board displays ‘irresponsibility, buffoonery and ineptitude’

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//March 18, 2024//

State Bar of Wisconsin. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

COMMENTARY: State Bar Board displays ‘irresponsibility, buffoonery and ineptitude’

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//March 18, 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

The budget discussion at the State Bar Board of Governors’ Feb. 23, 2024, meeting was an exhibition of irresponsibility, buffoonery and ineptitude.

I want to focus on our discussion of the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. Just months after giving away $5 million and receiving nothing in return, we suddenly need more money! In an act of gross fiscal irresponsibility, we gave away millions to “protect” it and now are planning on raising our members’ dues again.

Not only that, we will go and beg the trust we gave the $5 million to for $200,000. Had we kept that $5 million and put it in a bank account, at 5% interest we could be receiving $250,000 a year in interest alone.

But no, we are receiving nothing from that $5 million.

After years of being badgered at board meeting after board meeting that we had to raise dues, we accumulated a nice reserve of over $6 million. Then suddenly, in January of 2023, we were told that we needed to “protect” our reserves.

From whom?

Various groups were named, and they kept changing. Maybe it was our members, or the Legislature, or some other group we were not aware of. It was a phantom threat that arose seemingly from out of nowhere.

State Bar of Wisconsin Secret Group

In any case, without the knowledge, much less approval of, the Board of Governors, a secret group had been planning and spending our money for years to create a special purpose trust and place our members’ money in it. The board, which only learned of the plan after it was virtually fully formed, was prohibited from reviewing any of the draft trust documents outside of limited times at the bar center.

Under the guise of the attorney-client privilege, board members were prohibited from even discussing it outside of a board meeting until a few weeks before it was up for a vote. At the June 2023 board meeting, the trust plan was approved by one vote. Five million dollars was transferred from the bar’s control to that of a trust. In return, the bar received nothing.

I was not surprised that after giving away millions of dollars the bar would be coming after its members for more dues money. What surprised me was the gall of doing it and proclaiming it was the epitome of fiscal prudence. That paying only $296 a year to practice law was a wonderful bargain. The nonsense flowed freely.

First, lawyers do not pay only dues to practice law. They also pay assessments to the Wisconsin Supreme Court of about $265 a year. That makes the real cost about $565. The bar could have lowered dues by $45 a year for five years and ended up fiscally in the same place we are now.

We could have fixed our aging website, offered discounted CLE, or offered free or discounted section memberships, like we did years ago. But no, we gave away money to “protect” it.

We were told that full disclosure of the trust, its trustees and initial finances would be provided to our members. It has not. Now we are like the beggar child in “Oliver” asking “Please, sir, I want some more.”

No business operates like this. Our members deserve better. Giving away large amounts of money and then turning around and saying we need more money is the height of fiscal irresponsibility. We had the money and gave it away. Now in April, we will vote on next year’s budget. I encourage people to contact their bar governors and tell them to vote no. That they are tired of dues increases that do not benefit them in any way.


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