Conservative group wants right-to-work for lawyers

By David Eggert

Associated Press

MACKINAC ISLAND (AP) -- A conservative group that supports Michigan's right-to-work law said Saturday it will push legislation to let lawyers opt out of paying mandatory dues to the State Bar of Michigan.

All attorneys licensed to practice law must be members of the bar and pay annual dues, leading the Michigan Freedom Fund to liken it to a union.

"Why force them to do this?" Greg McNeilly, the fund's president, told reporters at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. "It was created in statute in 1935. We just want to repeal it. ... Why should they be second-class citizens?"

He said no bill has been drafted because models from other states are being studied, but "a lot" of lawmakers want to sponsor it.

Michigan's right-to-work law prohibits forcing most public and all private workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, and applies to labor contracts extended or renewed after late March.

While the bar dues pay for expenses such as an attorney discipline system, licensing and a client security fund, McNeilly said attorneys could pay license fees without having to join the bar.

The 42,000-member State Bar of Michigan said a majority of states require practicing lawyers to join their bar association.

"A mandatory bar association is considered more cost-effective for both the state and members of the bar to provide regulation, promote the quality of the profession and protect the public," executive director Janet Welch said in a statement. "The rationale for this unique licensing for lawyers is that unlike other professionals, lawyers are also officers of the court. From the moment they are sworn in as members of the bar they have a governmental role and responsibility."

The right-to-work law exempts police and firefighters, which the conservative group also considers unfair. McNeilly said though it is unlikely the Republican-led Legislature will apply the right-to-work law to first responders anytime soon, he thinks lawyers could be added to the list before the two-year session concludes at the end of 2014.

The group's announcement came about a week after the state bar called for an end to secretly funded judicial campaign ads and urged the secretary of state to require disclosure of the spending that has increasingly dominated Supreme Court elections.

The bar's letter angered the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which called it an attempt to censor free speech. And McNeilly said the letter "highlighted the silliness and the ridiculous nature of that entity."

"They put a bulls-eye on themselves," he said.

Welch said punishing the bar for taking a nonpartisan policy position that was adopted unanimously misunderstands "the position, the nature of the bar association, its purpose and its history."

Published: Tue, Sep 24, 2013