This article was updated Aug. 3 at 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 1, 2012 – Attorneys will lose a permanent notary public commission if their license to practice law is ever suspended or revoked, according to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, which has assumed responsibility for enforcing laws related to such commissions.
Under Wis. Stat. section 137.01(2), a U.S. resident who is licensed to practice law in Wisconsin “is entitled to a permanent commission as a notary public upon application to the department of financial institutions and payment of a $50 fee.” That is, upon application and fee, the DFI secretary must issue a permanent commission to a licensed Wisconsin lawyer.
However, the lawyer’s permanent commission is revoked if the lawyer’s license to practice law is ever suspended or revoked. Under section 137.01(2)(c), the Wisconsin Supreme Court must file with DFI “notice of the surrender, suspension or revocation of the license to practice law of any attorney who holds a permanent commission as a notary public. Such notice shall be deemed a revocation of said commission.”
Under section 137.01(2)(am), a lawyer is entitled to receive a certificate of appointment as a notary public upon reinstatement of his or law license, but only for a term of four years.
Thereafter, the lawyer must reapply every four years and pay a $20 fee. Under section 137.01(2)(a), “the application shall include a certificate of good standing from the supreme court, the signature and post-office address of the applicant and an impression of the applicant's official seal, or imprint of the applicant's official rubber stamp.”
These provisions are not new, but were not previously enforced by the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office. However, DFI, which assumed enforcement authority from the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office July 1, 2011, intends to enforce these provisions. DFI has said it will implement a standard grievance process to challenge revocations on a case-by-case basis.
A DFI spokesperson said there has been no request for any retroactive enforcement from appropriate parties. Note an opinion from the Wisconsin Attorney General to the Secretary of State’s Office, the previous enforcing agency, which states that: “If notice now is filed with your office that an attorney’s Wisconsin law license had been suspended or revoked at some time in the past, that attorney’s permanent notary commission is revoked as of the date when the notice is filed … not retroactively as of the date that the attorney’s Wisconsin law license was suspended or revoked.”
The opinion also states that the enforcing agency "may not revoke permanent notary commissions upon receipt of information about law license suspensions and revocations received from sources other than notice filed by the supreme court." There has been a question about whether "inactive members" lose permanent commission status.
According to Diane Fremgen, clerk of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, "the clerk of the supreme court does not track the 'inactive' and 'active' status of attorneys and therefore, does not currently provide DFI with such information." Aside from the question of whether an "inactive" member is considered "suspended" from the practice of law for purposes of permanent commissions, under the state attorney general's interpretation, DFI cannot revoke a permanent commission without notice from the supreme court.
Common Suspension: Failure to Comply with CLE Requirements
The law licenses of Wisconsin lawyers can be suspended for noncompliance with continuing legal education (CLE) requirements under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 31.10. The Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) monitors compliance with CLE requirements.
SCR 31.10 generally requires 30 hours (3 legal ethics and professional responsibility) for each two-year reporting period. Under the rule, “[i]f a lawyer fails to comply with the attendance requirement of SCR 31.02, fails to comply with the reporting requirement of SCR 31.03(1), or fails to pay the late fee under SCR 31.03(2), the [BBE] shall serve a notice of noncompliance on the lawyer. This notice shall advise the lawyer that the lawyer’s state bar membership shall be automatically suspended for failing to file evidence of compliance or to pay the late fee within 60 days after service of the notice. The [BBE] shall certify the names of all lawyers so suspended under this rule to the clerk of the supreme court. …”
Because under section 137.01(2)(c), the Wisconsin Supreme Court must file with DFI a “notice of the surrender, suspension or revocation of the license to practice law of any attorney who holds a permanent commission as a notary public,” failure to meet CLE requirements will result in a revocation of the attorney’s permanent notary public commission.
Common Suspension: Failure to Timely Pay State Bar Dues
The law licenses of Wisconsin lawyers can also be suspended for failing to timely pay State Bar of Wisconsin dues under SCR 10.03(6).
Under SCR 10.03(6), “[i]f the annual dues or assessments of any member remain unpaid 120 days after the payment is due, the membership of the member may be suspended in the manner provided in the [State Bar] bylaws; and no person whose membership is so suspended for nonpayment of dues or assessments may practice law during the period of the suspension.”
State Bar dues are due on July 1 of every year.
The State Bar Bylaws, Art. 1, Section 3 (Penalty for Nonpayment of Dues), state that, “[a]ny member admitted to the State Bar prior to July 1 whose dues are not paid by September 1 shall be notified of his or her delinquency and the consequent penalties by certified mail sent to the member's last known address prior to October. Failure to pay the dues by October 31 shall automatically suspend the delinquent member.”
Additionally, Art. 1, Section 3, states that “[t]he names of all members suspended from membership by the nonpayment of dues shall be certified by the Executive Director to the Clerk of the Supreme Court and to each judge of a court of record in this state, after first mailing a copy of such list to each suspended member 10 days before it is filed with the Supreme Court.”
Again, because under section 137.01(2)(c), the Wisconsin Supreme Court must file with DFI a “notice of the surrender, suspension or revocation of the license to practice law of any attorney who holds a permanent commission as a notary public,” nonpayment of dues will result in a revocation of the attorney’s permanent notary public commission.
Contact Information About Status
Lawyers with questions concerning their standing with the State Bar should contact customer service at (608) 257-3838 or (800) 728-7788. All State Bar members can track dues payment status and CLE credits, which are approved by the BBE, through their online accounts on WisBar.org. For CLE information, click on “myStateBar” to log in, then click on “myCLE Tracker.”
Joe Forward is the legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin.