First of all, it was refreshing to see such a diverse group of people on the committee (unlike the State Bar itself, which is pretty white). There was a criminal defense attorney, Hispanic attorney, and at least a couple of attorneys involved in protecting freedom, including Clint Bolick from the Goldwater Institute (he was absent yesterday) and Paul Avelar from the Institute for Justice.
The committee asked the State Bar's CEO John Phelps to provide information about the Bar first, then followed up with questions.
Phelps said the Bar exists to protect the public, not attorneys - yet admitted that of 26 voting members on the board, only 4 are non-attorneys! As well as 3 who are appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court and don't have to be lawyers. In fact, NONE of them are elected by the general public! Tell that to the multiple members of the public I've talked to over the years who have had their complaints against big firm attorneys thrown out by the Bar, simply because those attorneys were powerful and connected. The fact the board is primarily composed of attorneys and elected by attorneys is evidence the Bar is really a union, protecting its favored attorney members, not the public.
The 18 elected members don't have term limits, and as I can personally attest to, some have abused their permanent positions to target attorneys they don't like for years. Insiders have told me that I have been targeted since 2007 by a former Bar president who still remains on the board indefinitely, and who not just once, but twice is behind the only bar complaints that have ever been filed against me. This is all allegedly because I wrote an article for Fox News for my boss at the time, the Maricopa County Attorney, refuting this bar president's defense of someone who had allegedly downloaded 93 images of child porn. For that article, I have paid the price for eight years now; I lost my home to foreclosure since no one would hire me, had to move in with my parents (who aren't wealthy) and my husband and his four teenagers who we solely support had to move in with his parents since the bills added up so fast. I'm actually one of the lucky ones. Others targeted by Bar establishment have ended up with heart attacks, filed bankruptcy and (I've been told) even committed suicide. I don't want anyone else to go through anywhere near what I've been through. Sadly, there are no repercussions for those victimized by the Bar; everyone is scared of it and there is no accountability as a government mandated union.
So next time someone tells you "the Bar is operating just fine, there's no need to change anything," cite the hundreds, if not thousands, who have been abused by the Bar like myself with no recourse. If the Bar were no longer mandatory, with these functions moved under the Arizona Supreme Court instead, people with complaints could boot out the justices in the next retention election. Plus the court is subject to public records laws and lawsuits (I am prohibited from suing the Bar).
Of the members on the board, there are a whopping 9 members from Maricopa County; most other counties only have 1 member, which results in more unequal representation of the big and powerful firms.
Currently, there are 23,527 member attorneys in Arizona, but only 18,207 are active. The rest who aren't active, 3,625, have to pay a hefty annual fee of $265 merely to remain inactive! Uh, what benefit do they derive from this? Seriously, NOTHING, in fact the State Bar usually acts AGAINST your interests, as we've heard time and time again. It lobbies (and we believe illegally) for left-wing political causes and puts on optional, overpriced continuing legal education classes that are already done much cheaper by voluntary organizations.
Phelps said there were a whopping 254 in-house employees - the Bar employs that many attorneys to work for it (note: not sure how this jives with the 98 employees mentioned later on in this argument, maybe some of those attorneys are merely on contract?). Sounds like a massive abuse of attorney dues to prop up a unnecessary, optional institution with a long history of corruption and abuse that is continuing to get worse.
Phelps admitted that the $475 paid in annual active dues by each active attorney (which is the second highest in the nation after Alaska for a mandatory bar), will increase $15/yr over the next 3 years. The Bar will be pulling in an incredible $9.2 million in 2015 from dues alone. It will also pull in a massive $1.9 million from continuing legal education (so why does it need the mandatory dues to supplement this generous revenue?) It will bring in $3.9 million in other income. What is that additional $3.9 million for? Questions need to be answered at the next committee meeting.
Phelps admitted that 30 people - yeah, not 3, not 5, not even 10 - but 30 employees are hired to handle professional development (continuing legal education), general counsel and the special services division. Attorneys are required to take 15 hours annually of continuing legal education - but they can take it anywhere. The Federalist Society frequently offers free continuing legal education, which conservative attorneys like myself like to take advantage of, and most continuing legal education I've come across is offered at prices well below the State Bar's courses.
The Bar has a history of targeting solo practitioners, conservatives, and those who are not connected (e.g. not members of big law firms). It spends millions of dollars on this kind of discipline. Phelps admitted in 2014 that the bar initiated a whopping 751 investigations. Of that, 13 lawyers were disbarred, 38 lawyers were suspended, 18 lawyers were reprimanded, 39 were given informal sanctions, 73 were given diversion orders/agreements and 202 were given instructional comments.
It is well known among attorneys in Arizona that if you're in one of the targeted classes listed above, you can expect disbarment or suspension. Anyone else - no matter how egregious the offense - can expect a lesser sentence. The disciplinary judge for the Bar allowed a trustee who had worked on one of his cases to continue practicing law in prison - after he had killed a woman while drunk driving!
What was extraordinarily disturbing was watching Phelps deliver his Powerpoint presentation and ridicule Lisa Aubuchon, perhaps the most egregious disbarment of an attorney in years, and a good part of the reason this bill is now being proposed. She was a political target, collateral damage to a conservative county attorney the Bar wanted to take out. Phelps had the ARROGANCE to pull up her page on the AZ Bar website to show the ad hoc committee as an example of Bar discipline! There were audible gasps throughout the audience, as people realized Phelps and the Bar think they are untouchable in how they destroy lives for political gain.
One of the panel members asked Phelps how the Arizona Bar is better than the voluntary bars in 18 states. Phelps responded and said that in Colorado, in order to join the voluntary bar to get the benefits, it costs more, $750.
Really? The "benefits" of a bar association include the continuing legal education (which I've pointed out can be obtained cheaper elsewhere) and joining their myriads of diversity committees. As well as supporting their left-leaning (and likely illegal) political lobbying. Do most of us care about joining some diversity committee? Of course not. We have families and obligations and the last thing we want to do is serve on some boring committee where people sit around and talk about bringing more diversity into the bar. Especially from some hypocritical Bar that is mostly composed of white people. If the Bar were voluntary, hardly anyone would join it, since it's not necessary. It's like throwing your money down the drain or at left-wing causes.
Another panel member pinned Phelps down as to how many employees the State Bar actually employs. Ready for it? 98 paid employees! She asked how much is the total cost of their salaries, and he tried to duck it at first, saying the 2015 budget is posted online. She responded and said she had looked on the Bar's website and couldn't find it. Finally, he admitted that the total cost for the bar's employees for 2015 is $6.7 million!!! This sounds like a medium to large corporation, not some nonprofit. I served on the board of Arizona Right to Life for several years, a nonprofit, and we never had more than two or three paid employees.
The panelist then asked how much more does a certified criminal law specialist need to pay the Bar for that designation per year? Conveniently, Phelps didn't know the answer, but implied that the Bar had never turned down the suggested cost of this additional membership.
The panelist asked why the bar charges such high prices for continuing legal education. "Doesn't CLE pay for itself? Yet I've seen it as high as $350 from the Bar."
Phelps tried to weasel out, saying, "It varies, we've offered some free and some on sliding scale." (hmmm, surprising, I've never seen any of those). The panelist responded, "Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice puts on a 3-day seminar for under $300 where you can get all 15 credits of annual CLE." In fact, as I can attest to in the past, it's easy to find national CLE providers that offer all 15 credits for $79.
Next, the panelist said she had heard that the Bar was considering charging other folks for putting on CLEs. Phelps attempted to dodge that question as well, finally admitting there had been a proposal that recommended setting up certification of CLE on the front end (fortunately, the board voted against it, maybe they started to get worried the goodie train is coming to an end?).
The panelist asked if the criminal defense attorney committee section of the bar she is a member of makes a profit. Yet again, Phelps tried to weasel out of the answer. At first he said, "It varies from year to year, last year it made $10,000. Then he changed his tune (probably realizing people might request the numbers later), saying, "It usually breaks even or makes a little revenue."
Another panelist asked what is the highest cost to the bar? Phelps responded and said after salaries, it is discipline. Compared to other states, Arizona has higher discipline costs (hmm, could it be because they ship in high-cost disciplinary attorneys from out of state to target attorneys they don't like?) Disciplinary costs are about half of what salaries cost, a whopping $3.2 million. Phelps admitted that most attorneys and paralegals who work for the Bar are in the disciplinary division. More evidence the Bar is spending exorbitant amounts to target attorneys it doesn't like.
A panelist concerned with liberty asked Phelps whether the Bar is public or private. Phelps hemmed and hawed, then finally said it is a nonprofit; it performs a governmental function and is overseen by a governmental entity, but is not technically a government organization. The panelist pressed him further, asking if it has a regulatory function. Phelps admitted the Bar performs investigations and prosecutions. When asked if the Bar was subject to public records laws, Phelps said it was not, but admitted the Supreme Court, which oversees it, could change that and make it open. So basically the Bar has the best of both worlds; it has ultimate authority like the government, is granted a monopoly union from the government, but is not subject to public records laws like the government. Anyone see a problem here?
Rep. Anthony Kern, who is heading up the ad hoc committee, asked Phelps about the Bar's involvement in politics, which it is prohibited from participating in as a nonprofit. "I saw you lobbying down here against the bill last year, I even heard that a Supreme Court justice was lobbying legislators with a phone call," he said. "There were emails sent out from bar associations with false information that mirrored your website."
Another panelist said he had seen an email that Phelps had sent to voluntary bar associations, which basically sounded like a veiled threat. It said, "I'd like to think the State Bar is a partner with your organization. If we were to become merely another voluntary organization..." It went on to threaten that relations would worsen and money would dry up.
Astonishingly, Phelps arrogantly responded, "You're absolutely correct" and proceeded to defend his threat.
Stay tuned, this is just going to get worse. Taking on the last mandatory union in a right-to-work state will not be easy, but freedom lovers have justice on our side. Visit azbarwatch.com for more information from our friends.
Another attendee described Phelps' talk as "a raw display of the arrogance of an uncontrollable tyrant."
One attorney posted this photo of the Bar's annual membership directory, with the following commentary,
Behold! This glossy covered 700 page obsolete recycling bin filler, which goes out to about 20,000 active members, is how the Bar chooses to spend the yearly tithe they exact from you. They could at least include a free CD with 100 hours of AOL. It would be just about as useful as this thing. Instead of sending out useless garbage, they could be doing stuff they're really good at like persecuting anyone that disagrees with their left wing agenda. Disband the bar. End compulsory dues. Turn regulation over to the courts.
To which another attorney responded, "To be honest, I haven't opened that book up in I don't know how many years. I go to the bar site and search the attorney, or firm, that I need for my pleadings/correspondence "
The second meeting of the ad hoc committee is coming up Monday, with a final one scheduled for November.