Gov. William Curran, Board of Governors Policy Committee chair, presents modified policy positions.
Feb. 4, 2013 – At its meeting in Madison last week, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors (board) granted future dues waivers to veterans who gain admission to practice law in Wisconsin. The waiver applies to the first year of bar admission.
The modification responds to the state’s Veteran Fee Waiver Program, enacted in 2011, which grants one-time waivers to qualifying veterans for professional licensing fees.
Under the law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 209, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is charged with developing a rule addressing veteran fee waivers for admission to practice law.
The supreme court has asked the Board of Bar Examiners to draft and submit a proposed veteran fee waiver rule. Admission requires the payment of court fees and State Bar dues. State Bar bylaws govern the payment of State Bar dues.
Thus, the board approved a State Bar bylaw change to exempt veterans from State Bar’s mandatory dues requirements in the first year of practice.
Brennan Invokes Gideon
Known for eloquent and moving calls to action, State Bar Past-president Jim Brennan reminded the board that next month marks the 50-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, decided in March of 1963, a landmark case recognizing a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to counsel.
He said the State Bar was instrumental in creating models for access to justice in both criminal and civil cases, including the model now used by Wisconsin Judicare.
“State Bar involvement over the last 50 years in access to justice and the public defender program has allowed us to be the organization that we have become,” Brennan told the board.
Currently, lawyers pay full applicable dues if admitted in the first half of a fiscal year (July 1 to Dec. 31). Those admitted between Jan. 1 and April 30 must pay one-half applicable dues. No dues are imposed against those admitted between May 1 and June 30. Most new lawyers, spring graduates, are admitted after May 1 every year.
The bylaw modification exempts veterans from paying any dues in the year of admission. For those veterans admitted between May 1 and June 30, when no dues are applicable, the exemption extends to the subsequent fiscal year.
The BBE estimates that approximately 90 new lawyers would have qualified for veterans fee waivers in the past three years.
Board Streamlines Policy Positions
The board reaffirmed, updated, and modified existing State Bar policy positions to assist staff when working with the legislature and other branches of government. The board develops and maintains policy positions to impact the legislative process on issues of importance to the courts, the legal profession, and the public. Its policy committee reviewed 30 policies, mostly on justice system funding and criminal practice and procedure, and made recommendations to update and streamline existing policies.
Six policies on court funding were combined into one policy, which reads: “The State Bar of Wisconsin fundamentally believes the Judicial Branch of government should be funded through sum-sufficient general purpose revenue. The Bar supports funding for all personnel related to court operations such as: law libraries, deputy and assistant clerks of court, secretaries, law clerks and court commissioners. Adequate funding is of critical importance to provide a system of justice which is fairly administered and impartial to all people.” The board also modified a policy on court interpreter funding, and a policy supporting adequate judicial compensation.
Gov. Fritz Kaftan, Board of Governance Committee chair, speaks to the board about veteran fee waivers.
Chair of the Board Kelli S. Thompson, with visitors Marsha Mansfield, U.W. Law School, and John Voelker, Director of State courts.
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With respect to criminal practice and procedure, the board simplified its policy supporting a return of original jurisdiction of 17-year-old juveniles to the juvenile justice system, and policies opposing death penalty reinstatement and racial and ethnic profiling. The board also simplified its policy on the right to counsel in criminal cases. The new policy reads:
“The State Bar supports the right of criminal defendants to effective assistance of counsel. Case law at both the federal and state level have set the standard for effective assistance of counsel as providing the client with zealous, competent and independent representation. The State Bar supports the principle that all criminal defendants are entitled to effective representation to assure that justice is served.”
The board also sunsetted an out-of-date policy opposing apprenticeship programs as an alternative to formal legal education, and simplified its policy supporting citation of unpublished court of appeals decisions for persuasive value.
The board approved the Environmental Law Section’s request to amend its bylaws. The amendments are intended to bring clarity and focus to ongoing board activities.
Nate Cade, the interim state delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, reported on upcoming issues to be considered by that body at the ABA’s Midyear Meeting, including potential amendments to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.