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State Bar of Wisconsin Board candidates silent on issues

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//March 22, 2024//

State Bar of Wisconsin

State Bar of Wisconsin. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

State Bar of Wisconsin Board candidates silent on issues

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//March 22, 2024//

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Two State Bar of Wisconsin board president-elect candidates canceled their interviews with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Wednesday after reviewing questions sent via email. Two other secretary candidates declined to be interviewed.

Both attorneys, Ryan Billings and Jennifer L. Johnson, are running for the president-elect position.

On March 19, Billings responded to the Wisconsin Law Journal’s request for an interview agreeing to an email interview.

“Thanks for reaching out! Jennifer Johnson (copied on this email) and I have an agreement about election appearances/public statements. We have conferred, and we’d be happy to provide written answers to any interview questions you have. Hope this helps, and have a great day!,” Billings wrote.

On March 20 at 8:59 a.m., the Wisconsin Law Journal replied with 10 questions.

Also on March 20 at 5:02 p.m., Billings responded, “After discussion, for a number of reasons, Governor Johnson and I unfortunately are unable to respond to the questions posed by the WLJ. Regretfully, we must withdraw from the interview.”

Thursday afternoon, Billings responded he and Johnson will provide a short statement addressing some of the questions.

Transparency

Milwaukee Attorney Nick Zales, who sits on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors, is calling for more transparency.

“This is a campaign where the lawyers who will vote have almost no information beyond what kind of law firms the candidates work at. They have self-created statements on WisBar’s website,  but how many voters will see those? I cannot fathom not answering important questions from the press. Questions that go to the heart of serving as a bar leader,” said Zales during an interview Thursday.

In defending the State Bar of Wisconsin, Zales said he does not blame the State Bar.

“I do not think that the bar itself is not being transparent in providing candidate information, but what is being provided is controlled by the candidates,” Zales said.

“Candidates do not want to discuss issues such as dues, the role of the Board of Governors, and financial issues such as the special purpose trust. But those are the issues lawyers are interested in,” Zales added.

Below are the 10 questions the Wisconsin Law Journal asked.

  1. How will you maintain your practice and serve if you win?
    E.G. Hours spent on average:
    President-elect 1110 hours
    President 1800 hours
    Past-president 900 hours
  2. Did you vote in favor of creating the trust? ($5 million of members money)
  3. What do you believe the State Bar should be doing for its members? What are some priorities (CLE, cybersecurity, judicial security, legal deserts, case backlog, pay for DA/public defenders), etc.
  4. Name a program you think should/could be eliminated?
  5. Why is the State Bar listed as part of the state government in the Blue Book, but lacks financial transparency as to its employees’ salaries and benefits?
    (E.G. It is not subject to the Open Records Act in Chapter 19, and yet it also files no IRS Form 990 if it is a nonprofit)
  6. What are some of the challenges the State Bar is facing?
  7. Are you optimistic about the outcome of the DEI lawsuit? What is your view on the case? https://wislawjournal.com/2023/12/20/state-bar-of-wisconsin-sued-over-diversity-program-in-new-federal-lawsuit/
  8. Should BOG meetings be televised?
  9. A) Do you support raising dues this year? B) Should bar dues be lower to be more in alignment with other states?
    E.G. I believe Minnesota is based on length of practice and income. From about $128 to $274.
  10. Should State Bar membership be mandatory?

The Wisconsin Law Journal also reached out to secretary candidates Martina Gast and William Wallo. Both Gast and Wallo declined to be interviewed.

One week ago, on March 14, 2024, the Wisconsin Law Journal also emailed Margo Kirchner and Matthew Rowe, both Judicial Council candidates.

Kirchner did not respond to emails. Although Rowe responded immediately he eventually canceled.

As previously reported, the State Bar will elect a president-elect, a secretary, a Judicial Council representative, and Board of Governors representatives starting April 11, 2024.

According to the State Bar, the president-elect serves a one-year term before becoming president. The secretary holds the position for two years, while the Judicial Council representative serves a three-year term.

The election closes at noon on April 26. Those elected take office July 1, 2024, the State Bar said.

This story has been updated.

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