Kudos to State of Washington lawyers. They’re fighting the latest kick to their billfolds and keisters arising from a 141% licensing fee increase approved by the Washington State Bar Association’s (WSBA) Board of Governors. Last September, the WSBA’s governors voted to raise licensing fees from $325 to a whopping $458 by 2020.
By subsequent Order, the Washington Supreme Court sacramentally blessed the proposed fee increase deeming it “reasonable.” The justices also refused to tie any future increases to a cost of living index as proposed by a member referendum petition.
There’s an ancient legal maxim that for every wrong, the law provides a remedy. But in the real world, even this most aspirational of principles is soon enough found wanting. Therefore, left without apparent remedy, Washington lawyers turned to their state legislature. On February 6, 2017, WSBA member and state senator Mike Padden introduced Senate Bill 5721. The Bill would require the WSBA “to obtain an affirmative vote prior to increasing bar dues for membership.”
SB 5721 is in reaction to the Washington Supreme Court’s Jan. 5, 2017 order — that on its own motion without formal prompting from another party — overruled a December 20, 2016 citizen petition filed by 2,180 Washington Bar members calling for a member referendum to reject the licensing fee increase.
As explained by an email forwarded to me by a Washington lawyer, “The Supreme Court’s order, issued without briefing or discussion, has raised an important constitutional challenge to the Legislature’s power over taxes and government regulation; the Court’s challenge is entirely unnecessary. SB 5721 can resolve that conflict quickly and easily, while protecting the interests of the public and the profession. SB 5721 does not create new law; it does not direct an outcome on the member referendum. SB 5721 simply returns the law to what it was before the Supreme Court changed it.”
The email goes on to pose the following series of questions to Washington lawmakers. “Can the Supreme Court now set taxes and establish public policy through a regulatory body that it indirectly controls? Can it do so without briefing or explanation? Can it do so when those closest to the effects and burdens of such public policy — those who pay for it directly — are denied the use of established procedures to petition the government for redress of grievances, without even a hearing or any other form of due process? Who is to guard the rights of Washingtonians when the Supreme Court itself is the offender?”
In reply, the answer and the anticipated remedy is: “It must be the Legislature, a co-equal branch and author of the State Bar Act.”
But if there’s one more thing that’s certain — besides death and taxes — it’s that money is also the mother’s milk of bureaucrats.1 And all the better when it’s OPM (other people’s money).
It’s no surprise, then, that bar bureaucrats would be: (1) back for more money and (2) looking for an end-around what must be for them irritating member referenda. In their minds, if you’re forced to belong as a precondition to practicing law in the state, you might as well meekly turn over all four cheeks along with your mandatory fees without complaint. It’s your privilege and their right.
The upshot of it all is a state constitutional challenge — not to mention what lawyers like to do best — litigation. A complaint was filed January 15, 2017 that also challenges the Washington Supreme Court’s power to set WSBA licensing fees.