Board of Governors Chair Kristen Hardy comments during the meeting.
Feb. 27, 2023 – The State Bar of Wisconsin’s 52-member Board of Governors adopted an updated policy position on bail reform at its meeting on Friday, Feb. 24.
At the September 2022 meeting, the board discussed the proposed new policy at length. At that meeting, President Margaret Hickey – who was a member of the Policy Committee during the bail reform discussion – said the proposed new policy was worded broadly on purpose, to give the State Bar flexibility in lobbying legislators on proposed legislation.
At the Feb. 24, 2023 meeting, Dist. 2 Governor Ryan Billings, who chairs the State Bar’s Policy Committee, told the board that the committee unanimously recommended that the board adopt the updated position.
“We’re very happy with this language,” Billings said.
He added that the updated position had also been thoroughly discussed with members of the State Bar’s Criminal Law section.
The new policy reads as follows:
“The State Bar of Wisconsin supports pre-trial release and detention laws that consider the safety of the community. The State Bar of Wisconsin also supports reforming bail and pre-trial release and detention laws so as to restrict the use of cash bail and supports policies that reduce disparities based on poverty and race.”
Board Discusses Proposed FY 2024 Budget
The board discussed, but took no action on, a budget proposal for fiscal year 2024 (July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024), recommended by the State Bar’s Finance Committee. The committee recommends a 5.5% or $15 State Bar dues increase. The proposed dues increase would raise the dues from $272 to $287.
Paul Marshall, the State Bar’s chief financial officer, said that the initial submission of the FY 2024 budget revealed that the State Bar faced a budget gap of $870,000.
Staff worked with the Finance Committee and the Joint Review Committee, with the Joint Review Committee reviewing all State Bar activities for prioritization and relevance. They were able to shrink the budget gap to $300,000 by:
considering personnel and other operational adjustments ($250,000);
including historically-based interest and dividend income from investments ($140,000), and
limiting earmarking of dollars from the Building & Equipment Reserve to complement the FY2024 capital budget plus anticipated depreciation expense ($180,000).
The Finance Committee then looked at inflation and the history of dues increases and the associated impact of delaying adjustments in dues, and decided that the 5.5% dues increase of $15 was necessary to close the $300,000 gap and achieve an operational breakeven.
“We took a systematic approach to addressing the gap that was before us,” Marshall said.
He pointed out that the proposed 5.5% increase in dues was less than inflation, which was 6.5% for calendar year 2022.
The proposed FY 2024 budget, Marshall said, was prepared to ensure that the State Bar can “continue forward with those activities that not only fulfill our mission but will help us to do so in deference to our winning proposition, which is to make sure that we’re providing value to you and all of our members and doing so in a fiscally sound manner.”
Paul Marshall, State Bar assistant executive director and chief financial officer, makes a point during the discussion on the budget.
Dist. 2 Governor Nick Zales said he was unsure whether he’d support the budget and suggested possibly filling the gap with the use of reserves.
“Most of our members are sole practitioners, and they just can’t raise their salaries whenever they feel like it just because the cost of living goes up or down,” Zales said.
State Bar President Margaret Hickey acknowledged that the proposed budget was the result of tough choices.
She pointed out that drawing down the State Bar’s reserves to erase deficits – using savings to meet operational costs – would go against the philosophy historically followed by the State Bar when creating a budget.
Jeff M. Brown is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6126.
“The other way to balance this budget is that positions or programs would have to go,” President Hickey said. “What of those things would you be willing to let go of? Are we going to not have an ethics hotline? Are we going to not have member services?
“We’ve already pared down our staff,” President Hickey said. “Now it becomes, you can’t cut any more without cutting programs.”
President Hickey said that to raise dues by a lesser amount and make cuts to erase the $300,000 deficit would only push the problem off to next year’s budget.
Executive Director Larry Martin told the board that State Bar auditors have recommended that that the State Bar regularly raise dues by smaller, incremental amounts each year, something the State Bar hasn’t consistently done, respective of inflation.
“The problem is, if you look at it historically, we stop-start, stop-start, stop-start, and we pay a price for that,” Martin said.
Martin also told the board that shortly after he joined the State Bar, he recognized that the State Bar hadn’t raised dues in nearly ten years.
Just before the tenth year, Martin said, the State Bar raised the dues by $30, but the State Bar laid off 10% of its employees – a move that had ongoing operational consequences.
The board will likely take action on the budget at its next board meeting in April.
Board Sets Keller Dues Amount for FY 2024
For FY 2024, the board approved a Keller dues reduction of $15.50; members who pay full dues (prorated dues for other member classes) may withhold that amount from their dues. The amount of last year’s reduction was $8.25.
Under Keller v. State Bar of California,
496 U.S. 1 (1990), and subsequent rulings, mandatory bar associations may use compulsory dues to fund only those activities “necessarily or reasonably related to the purposes of regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.”
Keller has been codified in Wisconsin SCR
Under Keller, the State Bar is permitted to fund lobbying and other activities, when necessarily or reasonably related to these purposes with mandatory dues. But lobbying and other activities not germane to those purposes may not be funded with the compulsory dues of members who object.
NRLD representative Daneka Hill of Minneapolis comments during the discussion on changes to the Attorney’s Oath.
Each year, the State Bar calculates a Keller dues reduction equal to the per-member amount used for activities that may not be funded with mandatory dues. Members who object may withhold the amount from their annual dues.
In 2018, the board adopted a policy to include all direct state and federal lobbying activity within the Keller dues reduction, even that lobbying activity deemed germane to regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.
The Keller dues reduction now includes activities that constitute direct lobbying on policy matters before the Wisconsin Legislature and U.S Congress, “regardless of whether they would otherwise qualify as chargeable under a Wisconsin Keller dues analysis.”
That approach acknowledges the concerns of some members who object to the use of mandatory dues for any direct lobbying activity, even if allowed under
Legislators Need to Hear from State Bar Members
Members of the State Bar’s Advocacy and Access to Justice Team told the board that outreach by State Bar members to legislators is more important than ever.
Lynne Davis, one of the State Bar’s government relations coordinators, told the board that there are only 10 lawyers in the state legislature, one each in the respective majority caucuses in the Senate and Assembly.
“Letting legislators know that State Bar members are available as a resource is vital to having our voice heard at the capitol,” Davis said.
None of the legislature’s 20 new members are lawyers, Davis said, and each of them sits on a committee that will be overseeing legislation that affects the State Bar.
“This is why we’re trying hard to get members to engage with their legislators,” Davis said. “Let them know that you’re one of their constituents.”
Non-lawyer legislators, Davis said, will often be unable to pick up on unintended consequences that proposed bills might have on the legal system.
“Communicating to them in-district is really important,” Davis said.
Devin Martin, the State Bar’s grassroots outreach coordinator, told the board the State Bar members speak with a powerful voice given their training and experience as attorneys.
“You are a leader of your community, whether you recognize it or not, because of your knowledge, because of your skill set, because of your profession,” Martin said.
“Your voice is important as an individual,” Martin said. “But it’s even more important if your voice is coordinated with other attorney voices across the state, especially when we have major challenges like we’re facing now with the criminal justice system.”
Martin told the board that the
State Bar’s Advocacy Network, a set of communication tools, is the best way to coordinate communication with legislators.
“This software really supports our lobbyists work,” Martin said. “And it really supports us in our work to find places where we still need to reach out and make those connections.”
Proposal on the Attorney Oath
The board also discussed proposed revision to the attorney’s oath, which is established in Supreme Court Rule 40:15.
The State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Ethics is requesting that the board approve the filing of a petition by the committee with Wisconsin Supreme Court to change SCR 40:15.
Ben Kempinen, who chairs the State Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee, told the board that the oath has been changed since it was adopted more than a century ago.
Several governors question why the proposed oath retains the words “so help me God,” given the State Bar’s inclusion goals.
Kempinen said that the committee discussed omitting the phrase “so help me God” but decided to leave it because a person taking the oath may affirm compliance to the oath without referencing a deity, just as witnesses may in a court.
“But for those who don’t want to say it, they stand out as a person who’s not saying it, as opposed to leaving that language out,” said Dist. 2 Governor Jennifer Johnson. “I don’t know why it has to be part of the official oath.”
Kempinen said if the board objected to the wording, it could remove it from the proposed version of the oath.
State Bar Past President Cheryl Daniels provides an update on the State Bar’s DEIA Action Plan.
DEIA Action Plan
Past President Cheryl Daniels provided an update on the State Bar’s DEIA Action Plan. She said that the next step with the plan is to organize all the metrics used in the plan and publicize them, “so that people really know what we’re dealing with in terms of DEIA in our profession.”
If the DEIA Plan is placed as an action item for the April board meeting and passed, Daniels said, the next step would be for board liaisons to study the DEIA report and move toward implementation of any recommendations.
“It’s a matter of moving it all forward,” Daniels said.
The board chose Michael Yang to fill the District 9 vacancy created when Gov. Sarah Zylstra resigned earlier this year. Yang, who practices family law in Madison, was one of four members who applied for the position.
The board approved an updated whistleblower policy and approved a request from the Public Interest Law section to amend its bylaws.
Members may obtain a copy of the minutes of each meeting of the Board of Governors by contacting State Bar Executive Coordinator Jan Marks by
email or phone at 608-250-6106.