WisBar News: State Bar Board Approves Budget, Hears Judicial Task Force Proposal:

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  • State Bar Board Approves Budget, Hears Judicial Task Force Proposal

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    Judicial task force

    The State Bar's Judicial Task Force, from left, Christine Bremer Muggli, Cathy Rottier, chair Joe Troy, and Thomas Shriner.


    Board of Governors meeting

    State Bar President Kevin Klein (second from left) with presidential award recipients, from left, Nick Vivian, Paul Swanson, Kelly Nickel, and Bill Curran.

    June 12, 2013 – State Bar of Wisconsin dues remain unchanged for fiscal year 2014, under the proposed budget approved by the State Bar’s Board of Governors today.

    The 52-member board, which convened in Middleton, also heard a report from the State Bar’s Judicial Task Force, which is recommending that the terms of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices be limited to one, 16-year term through a constitutional amendment.

    The board also voted to support a petition that would allow "official notices" to be published in mediums other than the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, and approved nominations and appointments in several key leadership positions.

    In addition, the board adopted State Bar bylaw changes relating to president succession rules and the terms under which an officer or member of the board could be removed.

    Board Approves Budget

    The State Bar board approved the use of reserve funds to supplement the State Bar's $11.7 million budget for fiscal year 2014 (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014).

    That means State Bar dues will remain unchanged for the 10th consecutive year.

    Full dues-paying members currently pay $224, an amount that has not changed since 2004. However, the approved budget will deplete the remaining $386,633 balance in the State Bar's Dues Stabilization Reserve Fund, which was established to mitigate dues increases but has been tapped in recent years.

    The budget will also use $58,000 from the State Bar's Opportunities Reserve Fund to support the $444,634 in total reserves necessary to fund the 2014 budget.

    The budget includes $140,000 for new expenditures, including a management and program audit of the State Bar, an additional half-time employee in the Ethics program, and a general two percent increase in staff compensation.

    "The budget strikes a balance as it holds the line on new spending, imposes no new burdens on our members, expands valuable programming to our membership, and creates a means for evaluating the efficiency of our organization," said Nick Vivian, chair of the State Bar's Finance Committee.

    Judicial Task Force Urges One, 16-year Term for Supreme Court Justices

    A State Bar task force studying ways the State Bar can promote a fair and impartial judiciary has concluded that the terms of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices should be limited to one, 16-year term with no opportunity for reelection. Currently, justices are elected to 10-year terms with no limit on the number of terms a justice can serve.

    According to a preliminary report of the State Bar's Judicial Task Force, created in 2011 by former State Bar President Jim Brennan, the term limit would "remove the most powerful force interfering with collegiality on the Court: the potential for factions developing over the re-election of a fellow justice."

    The task force is urging the State Bar's board to adopt a resolution, in the near future, recommending the adoption of a "constitutional amendment that would change the term of office for Supreme Court justices to a single elected sixteen-year term."

    The task force, chaired by Appleton lawyer Joe Troy of Habush Habush & Rottier, is expected to release a full report for in September.

    The preliminary report identifies various reasons for the change, including the public perception that court decisions are motivated by concern for reelection. And "since long-term incumbents will not be candidates, elections are less likely to foster attacks and potential distortions of supreme court decisions," the preliminary report states.

    Nick Vivian

    Nick Vivian, chair of the State Bar's Finance Committee, presents the proposed budget for FY 2014.


    Thomas Shriner

    Judicial Task Force member Thomas Shriner provides a historical perspective to the proposal.

    Board Takes No Action on OLR Petition

    The board took no action on a petition that would create disclosure rules relating to formal lawyer disciplinary investigations, despite a request for support from the Office of Lawyer Regulation. OLR will submit the petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    In general, the proposed rule would allow OLR "to issue public notice of a pending formal investigation into an attorney's possible misconduct or medical incapacity."

    Under the petition, the Wisconsin Supreme Court must approve the proposed notice after ordering the subject attorney to show cause why the notice should not be issued. Authorized notices would be published on the OLR's website.

    OLR's petition attempts to protect the public from attorneys engaged in a pattern of misconduct while protecting attorneys from disclosure where claims lack merit, according to OLR Director Keith Sellen, who asked for the board's support.

    "Public notice would issue only for good cause, and only after due process and consideration by the Supreme Court," Sellen said.

    Board Supports Petition on Official Publications

    On the recommendation of the State Bar's Communications Committee, the board unanimously supported a petition to change "official notice" rules.

    Under current rules, the State Bar must publish "official" notice to members – including Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules and State Bar Rules and Bylaws – in the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, which is the State Bar's official publication.

    However, the petition seeks a rule change that would allow official notices to be published in mediums other than the Wisconsin Lawyer in order to take advantage of electronic media that provides more timely and cost-effective distribution of notices. The Wisconsin Supreme Court must approve the proposed changes.

    Board Adopts State Bar Bylaws and Rules Changes

    On the recommendation of the board's Committee on Governance, the board adopted State Bar Bylaws and Rules changes affecting the office of president when a vacancy occurs, and instituted procedures for the removal of State Bar officers and board members.

    Under the changes, the president-elect would complete the term of a sitting president who resigns or is removed from office. A majority vote of the board would decide who fills a vacancy left at the president-elect post, but the successor would not serve as president unless elected to fill that role at the next election.

    If the conduct of a State Bar officer or member of the board is contrary to the best interest of the State Bar, that person can be removed by a three-fourths vote. The officer or governor subject to removal would have an opportunity to be heard.

    In addition, the bylaws will now clarify that a vacancy occurs when there is a death, incapacity, inability to serve, revocation, suspension, or relinquishment of law license, or when the officer or board member resigns or is removed by the board. The Wisconsin Supreme Court must approve the proposed changes.

    Nominations, Elections, and Appointments

    • The board approved Sherry Coley as the 2014 chairperson of the State Bar's Board of Governors. Coley replaces outgoing chairperson Kelli Thompson.
    • The board approved outgoing State Bar President Kevin Klein's appointees to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation Board: Attorneys Lee Atterbury, Nicholas Zales, and John Bermingham, as well as Mr. Robert Zellers.
    • The board elected Byll Hess and Theodore Molinari as State Bar of Wisconsin representatives to the ABA House of Delegates.
    • The board elected six board members to the State Bar's Executive Committee for 2014: Jill Kastner, Kevin Lyons, Sarah Ponath, Chris Rogers, Paul Swanson, and Laura Skilton-Verhoff. By rule, 2014 Executive Committee members will also include incoming State Bar President Patrick Fiedler, President-elect Robert Gagan, outgoing President Kevin Klein, incoming board Chairperson Sherry Coley, and one representative from each of the State Bar's four divisions.
    • The board approved the appointment of Andrew Chevrez to complete the term of District 2 Gov. Kevin Lyons, who was elected to serve as the 2014 State Bar treasurer.
    • The board approved the appointment of Byron Conway to complete the term of District 14 Gov. Robert Gagan, who was elected to serve as 2014 State Bar President.

    Other Business

    The board approved the date and location of the 2015 Annual Meeting and Conference of the State Bar of Wisconsin, which will be held at the Grand Geneva Resort Spa in Lake Geneva on June 25-26, 2015.