“. . . 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.
As 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.
But 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.
It’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.