Wisconsin Lawyer: President's Message: Listening to Members, Defending the Rule of Law:

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    President's Message: Listening to Members, Defending the Rule of Law

    One of the most important things a bar president can do is to visit with members and listen to members' concerns about the issues that affect them. Another important thing is to use the office of president to defend the rule of law - around the world and at home.

    Thomas J. Basting Sr.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 80, No. 12, December 2007

    Tom BastingDuring the last two months I've attended 10 county bar association meetings. During the next few months, I'll attend quite a few more. I've been to Green Bay, Columbus, Wausau, Elkhorn, Kewaskum, Fond du Lac, Medford, and La Crosse. I met with our resident and nonresident members in Ironwood and Iron Mountain, Mich. Although I've spoken at all of these meetings to let our members know what their State Bar of Wisconsin leaders are up to, I've found that the real value in all of this travel is listening to what our members are saying: listening, learning, and then pointing this association in the direction of responding to our members' concerns.

    I've listened when you've talked about the need to raise the private public defender fees from $40 per hour to a reasonable rate. I've listened when you've expressed your thanks that the State Bar is trying to protect consumers from being harmed by people attempting to practice law without being licensed. I've heard you express your thanks (and doubts) about my creating a Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee. I've discussed the need to raise the fees paid to guardians ad litem. I've heard you ask the State Bar to advocate for more prosecutors. Among the many topics we've discussed is the need for the Bar to support and promote the importance of an independent judiciary.

    One of the questions asked in La Crosse really challenged me: "Is the Bar going to respond to what is happening to lawyers in Pakistan?" I feebly answered that I didn't really know. During my drive back to Madison, I listened to the radio reports that President Musharraf had suspended Pakistan's national constitution, detained eight members of the supreme court, and arrested more than 3,000 Pakistani lawyers. When I arrived home, I watched the television in disbelief as soldiers beat and clubbed lawyers who were peacefully protesting President Musharraf's profound breach of the rule of law. As I write this, these lawyers sit in jails throughout Pakistan with no courts operating to which they can apply to seek release. There are reports that police earned cash bonuses for beating and arresting lawyers.

    I asked myself: Would I have the courage to take to the streets in protest and risk arrest, detention, bodily harm, and possibly death to defend the rule of law? I hope so. Would you? I hope so.

    There is already a response from our members asking for a resolution by the Board of Governors condemning what has happened in Pakistan, but the board cannot act immediately. By the time you read this, I will have issued a response as State Bar president that I hope all of you will support in your own way to let the public know that we lawyers stand with the lawyers of Pakistan in defense of an independent bar and judiciary, which are a cornerstone of all lawful societies.

    Stay warm, stay healthy, and be good to each other.