By Tom Solberg, Media Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin
Feb. 15, 2011 – A new petition asking the Wisconsin supreme court “to create a voluntary State Bar of Wisconsin” has been filed by two Madison-area attorneys.
The petition, filed on Feb. 11 by attorneys Steven A. Levine and James S. Thiel, asks the court to “amend, repeal, or recreate SCR Ch. 10 – and to make whatever other changes are necessary – to create a voluntary State Bar of Wisconsin.”
The petitioners link their request to Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1, 13-14 (1990), which, they explain, “set forth two activities which justify an integrated state bar and the collection of mandatory dues to support those activities: regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services offered by members of the bar.”
Levine and Thiel argue that the State Bar “is not a regulatory agency” and that, while it “does offer continuing legal education programs and publications designed to elevate the ethical and educational standards of bar members, these programs and publications are supported by user fees not state bar revenues.”
They also point to a record of support for the voluntary bar model among both members and leadership and argue that a voluntary association would be “free to take positions in the best interest of the public and its own members without the constraints of supreme court control.”
The petition follows a failed effort to gain the State Bar Board of Governors’ authorization to advance an earlier voluntary bar petition at the board’s June 25 meeting in Madison. Twenty-five of 42 governors in attendance voted in favor of a motion to approve a petition developed by the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC). However, this was one vote short of the 26 required to achieve the 60 percent supermajority of those present specified by State Bar bylaws.
The SPC reviewed the mandatory/voluntary bar issue in 2009 and reported its finding to the board one year ago. A record of all comments received by the SPC as part of its work on the report, together with links to detailed resource and background materials, is available at www.wisbar.org/stratplancomm. State Bar President James Boll notes this record in his response to the latest development.
“Last year, under the leadership of now Past President Doug Kammer, the State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors studied and debated the pros and cons of structuring the State Bar as a voluntary, mandatory, or hybrid organization,” Boll said. “Ultimately, the board voted on a proposal that would have had asked the Wisconsin supreme court to review each of these proposed structures and to determine which structure would be best for the State Bar.
“The board chose not to endorse this proposal. Past President Steve Levine and Governor Jim Thiel have chosen to file a petition on their own, asking the court to make the State Bar a voluntary organization. I anticipate that the Board of Governors will discuss the petition at its April meeting and determine how the board will proceed.”