Bar Associations

Texas bar facing new challenge over mandatory membership

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The State Bar of Texas is facing a new lawsuit claiming that it has continued to require lawyers to join and pay dues, despite a recent federal appeals court ruling finding that the practice violated their First Amendment rights.

In a complaint filed Monday, three lawyers allege that the State Bar of Texas has ignored the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Louisiana, which held in July that most of the bar association’s legislative lobbying was not relevant to regulation of the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.

The court also found that the State Bar of Texas had not provided dues-paying members with “meaningful notice” of how their dues would be spent or the authority to veto expenditures. In 2019, the bar association lobbied for 47 bills on subjects ranging from LGBTQ rights to trusts and estates.

Reuters reported on the new lawsuit, in which the three lawyers are seeking to represent a class of State Bar of Texas members who also think the bar association continues to violate their First Amendment rights.

“For decades, the Texas bar has already had ample notice from the U.S. Supreme Court that members are not to be coerced into funding expenditures that are not germane to the permissible purposes of a mandatory bar,” the three lawyers said, referring to the 1990 decision in Keller v. State Bar of California.

It held that bars couldn’t use mandatory dues to fund activities of an ideological nature that aren’t related to regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services.

“The defendants are well aware of this, but they have continued demanding full dues payments from the membership by no later than tomorrow, Aug. 31, 2021,” according to their complaint. “As of the date of this filing, they have also offered no refunds for their already-sufficiently proven and established transgressions. They continue proceeding callously, resulting in further damage to the class.”

The 5th Circuit had also said in its decision the plaintiffs couldn’t be compelled to be members of the State Bar of Texas pending resolution of the lawsuit’s remedies phase.

State Bar of Texas spokesman Amy Starnes told Reuters that the bar association is committed to complying with the appeals court’s decision and working to update its policies and procedures.

About 30 states require lawyers to join their state bar associations and pay dues, Reuters reports.

The case is Bennett v. State Bar of Texas in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

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