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State Sen. Mike Padden

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.

Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/h/hotblack/preview/fldr_2008_11_02/file0001565651674.jpgThere’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.”

Mother’s milk.

cowabungaThe WSBA last tried raising fees in 2012. A member referendum rejected that proposed increase.

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.

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1Apologies to the late Jesse Unruh for paraphrasing his famous quote about money and politics.

 

 

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Day 196 - Kicking Ass | by lintmachineIn 2012, a member referendum cut Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) dues from $480 to $325. Members were thrilled. Lawyers elsewhere were envious. From WSBA leaders, teeth-gnashing and underwear-twisting ensued. But truth be told, the panty-twisting began well ahead of the referendum. The sky was gonna fall. The Seattle Starks said “Winter is coming.”

The Big Payback.

Four years later on September 29, 2016, it was payback time. On that day, the WSBA Board of Governors and its executive director got their ‘gimme back.’ The Board approved substantial lawyer licensing fee increases starting next year and running through 2020. The first jump of 138% raises dues from $325 to $449 in 2018. Fees then bump up to $452 in 2019 before riding the Up escalator again in 2020 to $458. The hikes amount to a 141% increase over current fees.

Back on top.

As soon as 2018, the first increase to $449 puts Washington back in the top ten of highest mandatory bar dues states topping Idaho, Utah, Louisiana and California. Of the total 32 mandatory bar states, only Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Nevada and of course, Arizona are higher.

Although the WSBA Board approved the increases last September, it wasn’t until this past January 5, 2017 that the score was truly evened. On that date the Washington Supreme Court approved the dues increases declaring them without explanation “reasonable” and in the alternative, ruled in the same Order again without explanation that the fees proposed through a new member license fee rollback petition “would not be reasonable.”

40+118 POW!! | by barkLicense fee rollback petition.

Following the WSBA Board’s dues vote last September, members took immediate steps under WSBA Bylaws that provide that within 90 days of a final decision of the Board of Governors, any active member may file a referendum to reverse or modify that decision. Consequently, a license fee rollback petition was timely filed to reject the 2018-2020 fees approved by the Board and to alternatively require that the fee amount for a given year not be increased by a greater percentage than the consumer price index (CPI) increased during the calendar year ending 12 months previous to the effective date of the increase.

Only 1,604 or 5% of the active membership were needed to qualify the petition. A total 2,180 WSBA members signed the petition. The Court gave no explanation other than the conclusory statement: “That the lawyer license fees proposed by the license fee rollback petition, if the petition were to pass, would not be reasonable both as to the level of fees that it proposes and as to the requirement that future license fee increases be tied to the consumer price index.”

Giving my bro a "good old kick up the arse" (AKA a "Bishop Brennan") outside Parochial House, County Kerry,Ireland. | by 2thin2swim

Later this month, the WSBA’s Board of Governors meets to decide whether or not to hold the referendum vote given the Court’s order rejecting the petition.

I’m not a Washington lawyer but they should still hold the vote — because even while the Board applauds the Court’s action while sitting on their hands, WSBA members will still want to kick some ass of their own.

 

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Credits: Day 196 – Kicking Ass, by lintmachine at Flickr via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; 40 + 118 POW!!, by bark at Flickr Creative Common Attribution license; Giving my bro “a good old kick up the arse,” by 2thin2swim at Flickr Creative Common Attribution license.

 

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bartender | by ken ratcliff

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