Saturday, March 12, 2016

HB 2221 to dismantle the corrupt Arizona Bar passes Senate Government Committee, headed to floor vote

Bar fat cats John Phelps, the CEO, and Rick DeBruhl, its spokesman, were paid by attorneys' dues to spend hours at the legislature lobbying against HB 2221. Why do they get paid to do that when many of us attorneys are lobbying for the bill?

Despite the State Bar of Arizona pulling out all the stops to defeat our bill to dismantle their corruption, HB 2221 successfully passed out of the Senate Government Committee. It will come up for a floor vote as soon as next week. Governor Ducey has indicated he will sign it.

An attorney from the Goldwater Institute explained that the bill does not violate the separation of powers. The Arizona Constitution delegates power over attorney licensing and discipline to the Arizona Supreme Court. HB 2221 is narrower than a similar bill that was proposed last year, that would have eliminated the mandatory bar. Under HB 2221, the Supreme Court could keep the state bar as is. It merely stops the bar from spending money on things other than regulation. This is totally separate from attorney licensing.

One attorney testified that he asked Bar CEO John Phelps for information on why attorneys' dues keep increasing, and Phelps ignored him. When he asked again a couple more times, Phelps threatened him with an investigation.

Mo Hernandez, an attorney who has been leading much of this effort, testified that it's all about the money. The Bar has a $15 million annual budget. One-third of that goes to lawyer discipline and regulation - the rest should be voluntary.

Phelps got up and arrogantly said, "I'm the guy who would have to make it work if it passed - it is unclear what would happen." Which didn't make much sense, considering 18 states have not just these reforms, but fully voluntary bars. And actually Phelps, if it passed, you might be the top dog anymore, I don't think all those bar employees are going to be too pleased with you when their income and lavish perks are cut back.Maybe if you hadn't protected your big firm attorney friends from complaints and gone on witch hunts after attorneys you didn't like, this bill would have never come up.

Karyl Krug, an attorney who has been vocal about supporting the bill, said 10 days after she testified to the legislature, a 400-page bar complaint was filed against her.

Chad Gammage, whose complaints against powerful, connected attorneys were dismissed by the bar, forcing him to sue the attorneys himself to get justice, said he is concerned that procurement laws are being violated. The Bar acts like a vendor to the state, but there is no oversight and no competition.

Eleanor Miller, a criminal defense attorney who served on the ad hoc committee for the bill, noted that she's only gotten involved in this because she's retired; since she's not a practicing attorney anymore, she doesn't have a target on her back and can speak up. She expressed concern that the bar violates attorneys' First Amendment rights. She doesn't want her dues supporting merit selection. Ironically, there is no transparency except when it comes to discipline, and then attorneys are publicly humiliated in long, drawn-out proceedings. She agreed with Mo that it's about the money, how they spend the money. It's a financial empire and they don't want to lose it.

David Derickson, a cheerleader for the bar who serves on its board of governors, whined that the bill would take away services for lawyers. Really? There are services for lawyers all around the state from various voluntary bars like the Maricopa County Bar. And somehow, the 18 states with voluntary bars manage to get by.

A final speaker said there is fraud coming out of the courts and bar - the bar is padding their wallets at the expense of the public and it's not transparent. He said he has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over it.

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