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  • State senate passes bill to regulate attorney fees

    Adam Korbitz

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    Oct. 28, 2011 – The Wisconsin state Senate has passed proposed legislation along party lines that will undermine the rights of Wisconsin businesses and consumers who seek to enforce their statutory, administrative, and contractual remedies.

    All 17 Republican senators voted for the bill on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2011, and all 15 Democrats who were present voted against the bill. One Democratic senator was not present for the session, making efforts to amend the bill difficult. The bill now goes to the state Assembly, which is expected to vote on the bill next week.

    As amended by the Senate, 2011 Special Session Senate Bill 12, would presumptively limit attorney fees at an arbitrary level of three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in any action not governed by section 814.04 and in which fee-shifting is allowed by law. An amendment adopted by the senate would make the hard cap proposed in the bill a presumptive cap that can be exceeded by the court if deemed reasonable.

    However, even as amended, the bill will have unintended, adverse consequences for Wisconsin’s business community — on whose behalf the legislation was offered — by creating uncertainty and ambiguity in the law where none currently exists.

    The new limits imposed by the bill may impact as many as 280 statutes and administrative rules, including many that are frequently brought by Wisconsin businesses against those who have violated the law. These statutes also are frequently used to successfully defend against frivolous claims brought against an innocent party by someone who has actually violated the law.

    Legislative leaders introduced the bill on Oct. 11, 2011, as part of Gov. Scott Walker's "Back to Work Wisconsin" special session regarding job creation. Senator Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) are the lead legislative sponsors. Sen. Zipperer is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    The State Bar opposes the proposed legislation because Wisconsin business owners and individual taxpayers and consumers cannot afford a measure that will clog our courts with avoidable litigation and further delay the resolution of civil cases. Numerous State Bar members voiced vigorous opposition to the bill at a public hearing on Oct. 19, 2011.

    Several efforts to amend the bill further failed, including one amendment that would have maintained current law regarding car title loan and rent-to-own operations.

    State Bar members who wish to share their views regarding 2011 Special Session Senate Bill 12 or its companion bill, 2011 Special Session Assembly Bill 12, with their legislator can find contact information on the Legislature’s website.

    Continue to monitor WisBar.org and visit the State Bar's Government Relations page for updated information on these issues. As indicated earlier, the bill is likely to receive a committee vote and a vote on final passage in the Assembly during the week of Oct. 31, 2011.

    By Adam Korbitz, Government Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin

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