The Wisconsin Supreme Court signaled its intention at an open administrative hearing on Feb. 22 to deny a proposal that would give attorneys subject to the $50 annual Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF) assessment the option to donate the funds to specific law-related civil legal service entities other than WisTAF. It also indicated that it would extend the assessment to include judicial Bar members.
The supreme court formed WisTAF, which is the only state-mandated program to raise funds to meet the need for legal services for low-income persons, in 1986 to manage and grant the monies generated by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA).
In March 2005, the supreme court imposed a $50 annual assessment on all active-licensed Wisconsin lawyers. In April 2006, then State Bar President Michael Guerin appointed a task force to review possible modifications to Supreme Court Rules 13.015 and 13.045 governing the assessment on attorneys for WisTAF. The task force recommended several changes to the Board of Governors, including the option to donate to specific law-related civil legal services entities and making uniform the classes of membership that pay the assessment to include judicial members.
"The Bar sought member feedback, and based on that feedback, the board approved two of the task force's proposed modifications," says State Bar President Thomas Basting who spoke at a public hearing in November 2007.
DeEtte Tomlinson, WisTAF executive director, observed that the court appeared to be concerned that allowing the option of donating money to a specific law-related civil legal service entity other than WisTAF could result in an unequal distribution of funds. "It's natural for attorneys to support their local legal services programs," she noted. "But with more attorneys in urban areas, legal services agencies serving primarily rural clients may not get as many dollars as they need."
"While it does not appear that we will see the outcome we had hoped for, I want to thank task force members for their work," said Basting. Members include: James C. Boll Sr., Madison (chair); Andrew Chevrez, West Allis; Rex Ewald, Monroe; Ken Knudson, Superior; immediate past President Steve Levine, Madison; and John Macy, Waukesha.