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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 78, No. 7, July 2005

    Legal news & trends

    Tax delinquent attorneys could face sanctions if new State Budget Bill passes

    Wisconsin attorneys who owe delinquent state taxes may face license sanctions under provisions in the 2005-07 State Budget Bill.

    State Bar's position on proposed tax delinquency provisions

    In March 2005, the Board of Governors adopted a policy position opposing provisions in the governor's budget bill that formalize a process to deny or revoke the law license of lawyers who are delinquent in taxes owed to the state. The board stated that the Bar believes attorneys are unique because their licensure is regulated by the supreme court and that being tax delinquent does not per se render an individual unfit to practice law. Furthermore, the bill's terminology describing license sanctions was not consistent with the court's terminology. The board directed that if the Bar's government relations staff is "unsuccessful in getting the language removed, the Bar would recommend changing the language from revocation to suspension, which is consistent with the statutory language that permits the court to suspend a lawyer's license for being delinquent in making court-ordered child support payments."

    Because the proposal is expected to generate up to $700,000 in state tax revenue over the biennium, law-makers were reluctant to delete the plan in light of the state's budget shortfall. State Bar lobbying staff secured a modification in the proposal to clarify that all of the new provisions would apply to license suspensions, as well as to denials or revocations.

    The budget version approved by the Joint Committee on Finance and passed by the State Assembly and Senate incorporates the governor's recommendations regarding the denial, suspension, or revocation of law licenses for individuals who are delinquent in the payment of state taxes under chapters 71, 72, 76, 77, 78, 125, or 139 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The budget bill now goes to the governor.

    Although existing state statutes have (for several years) included language regarding denial or revocation of law licenses, the provisions are not self-executing. They call for the supreme court, as the licensing authority, to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Department of Revenue (DOR) and to promulgate rules governing the process. To date, the supreme court has neither entered into an MOU nor promulgated rules, expressing a preference that all administrative remedies be exhausted with the DOR before the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) becomes involved with any license actions based on tax delinquency.

    The provisions in the bill address this concern by creating a unique procedure for attorneys. Wis. Stat. Section 73.0301 is amended to require that the hearing process for a law license applicant or attorney owing delinquent taxes be concluded before the DOR certifies the individual to the supreme court.

    If, as a result of a hearing, the DOR affirms the tax delinquency of a person who has applied for or who holds a license to practice law, the license holder or applicant may appeal the DOR's determination to the Dane County Circuit Court. If the Dane County Circuit Court upholds the DOR's determination, the DOR then affirms or certifies the person's tax delinquency to the state supreme court, and the court then determines what license sanction (i.e., suspend, revoke, or deny a license to practice), if any, to impose. These provisions first apply to hearings that commence on the effective date of the budget bill (i.e., the day after publication).

    This change effectively brings the treatment of law licenses in line with the treatment of all other professional licenses and credentials in the state but also provides some special protections intended to help guarantee due process for law licensees and avoid overburdening the OLR with investigations that are not directly related to allegations that the individual is unfit to practice law.

    Currently, for all other state-issued professional licenses and credentials, suspension of a license (or denial of an application for licensure) is mandatory if the DOR's certification of delinquency is reviewed and affirmed.

    Civil jury instructions available on Seventh Circuit Web site

    The Seventh Circuit Judicial Council recently released Pattern Civil Jury Instructions. The civil jury instructions complement the criminal jury instructions, which were developed in 1998. Both sets of instructions are available at U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.