Oct. 1, 2019 – A Wisconsin attorney has filed a lawsuit against the State Bar of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, alleging rules that require mandatory membership in the State Bar association violate a right to not associate.
Attorney Schuyler File of Pewaukee is the sole plaintiff in a civil action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
The complaint – naming State Bar President Jill Kastner and Executive Director Larry Martin as defendants, as well as the individual justices of the court – says the State Bar’s mandatory status is a violation of File’s First Amendment right of association. The Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center represents File, along with local counsel.
In April, two other lawyers filed a similar lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, alleging the State Bar violates their freedom of speech and association rights by requiring all lawyers to be members to practice law.
The State Bar of Wisconsin was created by Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule and is regulated by the Supreme Court through SCR Chapter 10, which says membership in the association “shall be a condition precedent to the right to practice law in Wisconsin.”
Under SCR Chapter 10, the State Bar must “promote the public interest by maintaining high standards of conduct in the legal profession and by aiding in the efficient administration of justice.” The State Bar does so through programs and services, including its ethics program and continuing legal education seminars and conferences.
Currently, State Bar dues are $260 per year for full, active members. Inactive and first-year lawyers pay $130 in annual dues. Emeritus members (over age 70) are not required to pay dues.
The State Bar also collects court assessments on behalf of the Supreme Court, including fees for the Board of Bar Examiners, the Office of Lawyer Regulation, the Wisconsin Fund for Client Protection, and the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation.
Last term, the Supreme Court considered a petition, filed by former State Bar President Steven Levine, requesting that the court change its own rules and create an association in which membership would be voluntary. The court (4-3) dismissed the petition on grounds that it was duplicative of another petition Levine filed in 2017.
The court denied the 2017 petition after public hearings and debate. The State Bar maintains an integrated bar litigation page with links to pleadings and motions that are filed in the two pending lawsuits, Jarchow v. State Bar of Wisconsin and File v. Kastner.