LINCOLN — A frequent critic of mandatory membership in the state attorney's association has filed a petition asking the Nebraska Supreme Court to eliminate the requirement that lawyers belong to the Nebraska State Bar Assocation.
State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha filed the request Wednesday, saying the bar has been engaging in lobbying activities he considers "unconstitutional."
The senator, an attorney, has also introduced a bill in the Nebraska Legislature to do away with mandatory membership in the bar.
Iowa, Lautenbaugh said, is among many states that don't require lawyers to belong to the bar and pay dues to practice law. Nebraska lawyers pay annual dues - currently $335 - to the state bar.
"I have made no secret of my ongoing issues with the state bar," he said in a press release. "I do not believe the bar association has been wise or appropriately frugal in expending the dues which all Nebraska attorneys must pay every year."
"There seems to be a perpetual 'mission creep' which leads the bar to try to expand its activities into more and more areas at the expense of its members, and I object to it," Lautenbaugh said.
The bar, he said, improperly gets involved in issues on which attorneys have divergent views and on proposals that are beyond the limited issues that should concern the organization.
Lautenbaugh said he believes that the bar violates the constitutional rights of attorneys, who are required to be members, when it lobbies against their views.
Warren Whitted, president of the Nebraska State Bar Association, disputed Lautenbaugh's analysis.
He said the bar takes positions on bills and lobbies for or against them only after careful consideration by a committee of lawyers who represent the diversity of the members.
“We've all heard it said: If you don't have a seat at the table, you are on the menu,” Whitted said in a prepared statement. “That statement provides the foundation for the legislative policy and program of the NSBA.”
This year, he said, the bar was presented with 118 bills pending in the Nebraska Legislature but took a position on only 37.
Whitted said the First Amendment speech rights of the bar members are protected by a clause that allows lawyers to “check off” that their dues shall not be used for lobbying purposes.
“On my watch, we will continue to be an active participant in legislative matters,” he said.
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