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Posts Tagged ‘fee increases’

“. . . the membership, what are they? Peons that can be ignored by the higher-ups in the bar and the court get together? That’s the concern here.” – Washington State Senator Mike Padden, Committee Chair, Law and Justice, directed at WSBA officials’ testimony, 2-14-17.

Entertainment 606As previously reported, the mandatory membership Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) has its hands full following the state supreme court’s de facto nullification of a member referendum that challenged a board-approved 141% mandatory dues hike. No matter that the referendum process is provided for in the bylaws. Or that its terms were legally satisfied by more than the requisite signatures to qualify. Or that board members might have done delighted hand stands once the high court pronounced its blessings upon them.

Never mind, too, member due process even though Sen. Mike Padden opined due process rights were violated by actions he termed “under the radar.” Sen. Padden is a lawyer and a member of the Washington Bar and his Law and Justice Senate Committee heard testimony February 14, 2017 from proponents and opponents of his bill, SB 5721. It requires the Washington State Bar Association“to obtain an affirmative vote prior to increasing bar dues for membership.”

The bill expressly states that “any membership fee increase approved by the board must be submitted to active members for approval by a vote. Any fee increase not receiving a majority of member votes received is disapproved and may not be assessed to any member. This subsection applies retroactively to fee increases approved by the board in 2016 or later.” Arizona lawyers can dream.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/l/luisrock62/preview/fldr_2004_08_23/file000180666737.jpgBut what’s clear here is that when a member referendum threatens to overturn a mandatory dues increase, well that’s just too inconvenient for bar leaders hellbent on wresting more money for the bureaucratic maw.

The referendum was signed by more than 2,100 members. And while they may have been stymied by the board and the court, give credit to Washington’s lawyers for not sitting on their hands when confronted with a momentary setback. As a result, things are no longer moving according to plan for the WSBA.

Moreover, such quintessential imperiousness can have lasting consequences, including possibly galvanizing members to as Sen. Padden conjectured of his bill’s proponents that “their only option is a voluntary bar like other states have if these kinds of activities are going to go on . . . violating due process rights. . . .”

Behind the woodshed.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/g/gracey/preview/fldr_2004_08_22/file000930089334.jpgIt’s particularly gratifying to acknowledge yet another legislature taking its own homegrown gaggle of arrogant bar leaders to the proverbial woodshed for in this case, a very public dressing down. The same recently happened in front of Arizona’s House Judiciary Committee where Committee Chair Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, an attorney and member of the bar, became increasingly frustrated with testimony opposing bar reform legislation from the State Bar of Arizona and its defenders.

Not so much for the WSBA.

Washington lawyer Angus Lee, one of the proponents of SB 5721, followed up his testimony before the Senate Committee on Law and Justice by posting about it on his blog. In classic understatement, Lee stated, The Senate hearing on WSBA membership dues, went well for the membership. Not so much for the WSBA.” The bill was passed by the Law and Justice Committee with a “do pass” recommendation.

Lee further declared, “Hearing highlights are a must watch for any dues paying WSBA member.” But why stop there? They’re a “must watch” for mandatory bar dues paying members everywhere.

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Suspending for a heartbeat my natural skepticism when it comes to Arizona’s legal establishment, especially its ‘friendly state bar,’ the following announcement might be good news. But I’m not holding my breath.

By administrative order of Arizona’s highest court, a “Task Force on the Review and Governance of the State Bar of Arizona” Review the State Bar’s Role and Governance” was created July 29, 2014.

j0341699The purpose of the Task Force is to “examine the Rules of the Supreme Court on the mission and governance structure” and to recommend changes — albeit “if needed,” including but not limited to the following:

“a) Does the mission of the State Bar need to be clarified or modified?

b) Is the governance structure adequate to efficiently and effectively govern and carry out the duties of the Board?

c) Are Supreme Court Rules in the following areas related to Board structure and governance duties adequate to best serve the Board’s primary mission of protecting the public?

i. Qualifications for membership on the Board of Governors;

ii. Appointment, election and removal of members of the Board of Governors;

iii. Term limits for members of the Board of Governors;

iv. Election process;

v. Board of Governors size and composition; and

vi. State Bar leadership structure and composition.”

People 3050I’ll be monitoring the Task Force’s work, particularly whether the court does anything to arrest the serial reelection of governors (some, for example, have been on the Board for almost 20 years), see “Elvis never leaves the building without term limits;” or to rein in the unwieldy size and structure of the 30-member Board, e.g. see “Inside the tent: state bars and management by rugby scrum;” or to rethink the Bar’s exclusive consumer-protection mission, see “That time of year again . . . rendering to Caesar his annual bar dues.”

I have zero expectations on the latter as the court’s order makes abundantly clear the mission and governance review means “to ensure that they continue to best serve the public interest.” After all, the court adds: “The integrated State Bar is intended to regulate the legal profession to protect the public” [presumptively — from its lawyers].

But don’t misunderstand. Serving the public interest is critically important. Problem is, there are hordes of Arizona lawyers still clinging to the long discarded but quaint notion that like a trade association, the Arizona Bar also expressly serves members’ interests.

So perhaps a salutary outcome of the Task Force’s work will be to finally disabuse them of that delusion. For more about “the tension inherent between the two incompatible roles of our integrated bar, the governmental regulation role and the trade association role,” see David Cameron Carr’s insightful discussion of the California State Bar’s recent governance changes at “The Great Public Protection Perpetual Motion Machine.”

So thanks to its public protection marching orders, deliberations won’t start with a blank slate. Findings and recommendations are due September 1, 2015.

Everything’s dandy.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/12/Henri_Brispot_Gourmand.jpg/309px-Henri_Brispot_Gourmand.jpg

The court’s order may have also caught some of the true believing kool-aid drinkers on the Board of Governors by surprise, particularly if it was sprung on them during the Board’s just-concluded annual retreat boondoggle.

Rich Life 20Many governors, after all, like a bloated bureaucratic “full service, first class” bar. They savor their perquisite-filled status quo and gubernatorial privileges, including Bar-provided free continuing legal education. So despite the increasing restiveness of members, they think everything’s dandy the way it is.

But dandy or not, the court wants the review because of changes to the “legal services environment” along with growth of Bar membership and “demands placed on the State Bar.” I can only imagine what the last one means — but it sounds tailor-made to justify more fee increases.

Computer Hackers 22And coincidentally, there’s also another Arizona Supreme Court 13-member committee looking at “whether Arizona ethical and other regulatory rules should be amended because of the changing nature of legal practice in a technologically enabled and connected workplace and the growing trend toward multistate and international law practice.”

You’d almost think there’s something in the firewater hereabout, given the spate of rule reviews underway. But I think this other arose due to changes proposed by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Ethics 20/20. Indeed, other state bars have begun similar reviews. A copy of the June 17, 2014 administrative order is available here. And of course, I’ll be posting about that committee, too.

The bad news.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Ansdell_Richard_The_Gamekeeper.jpg/365px-Ansdell_Richard_The_Gamekeeper.jpgBut as for that task force on mission and governance, don’t expect meaningful reforms. Thirty-six percent of the task force is composed of former members of the Bar’s board of governors. Indeed, four of these five former governors are also past state bar presidents, including the immediate past president. He was instrumental in ramrodding through an unnecessary 13% dues increase to preserve business as usual. Moreover, the “consultant” to the Task Force is the Bar’s current CEO. A mission and governance review with such guiding lights is like hunting with the game warden.

Still, I guess it’s not quite as bad as the composition of the committee reviewing the Michigan State Bar’s purported use of dues for ideological activities. In Michigan, as one critic pointed out in February, “the task force is stacked with current and former state bar officials.”

At least this Task Force has more diversity. It includes a former state university president, a presiding judge, a libertarian from the Institute for Justice and even a former public utility lobbyist. And with the Bar’s prosecutorial mindset, no surprise it also includes a former state attorney general and a couple of former cops.

But while the Task Force appears to have seemingly covered the politically correct diversity dimensions, e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc., it’s missed a big one: there are no dissidents. Who will voice the saeva indignatio?

Yet understandably, in light of the Bar’s disposition toward group-think, why invite oppositionists? No matter, then, what Christopher Hitchens brilliantly wrote in Letters to a Young Contrarian that “. . . in life we make progress by conflict and in mental life by argument and disputation.” Of all people, you’d think lawyers would know that.

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Photo Credits: Day 121, at Flickr Creative Commons attribution share and share alike license by Bastian; The Good Shepherd, by Waiting For The Word at Flickr Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; Henri Brispot Gourmand.jpg at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; Gamekeeper by Richard Ansdell at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

 

 

 

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