Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul addressed the State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors.
April 17, 2023 – Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul addressed the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors at its April 14 meeting.
Kaul, a State Bar member since 2007, was elected attorney general in 2018. He won re-election in 2022.
Kaul said that the top priority of the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) is public safety.
Other priorities, according to Kaul, include consumer protection, enforcing environmental regulations, and protecting Wisconsin residents’ freedoms.
“We’ve been involved in nationwide efforts with other AGs to fight climate change, including fighting the rollback of rules that were previously in place and were designed to reduce the impact of carbon dioxide emissions and other emissions,” Kaul said.
“Protecting our freedoms is really a critical part of what we do at the Department of Justice,” Kaul said.
He cited legal action to protect voting rights and to defend against lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin.
“Another area is reproductive freedom,” Kaul said. “We are involved in the challenge to the state’s 1849 abortion ban. We are arguing that it’s not enforceable because of subsequent laws that we allege impliedly repealed the ban.”
Kaul said he’s also working to push legislators to approve Governor Evers’ criminal justice funding package.
The package would spend about 1% of the state’s historic $7.1 billion surplus to boost pay for state public defenders and assistant district attorneys and private attorneys who represent indigent defendants, as well as add positions at the State Crime Lab and the Department of Justice.
“It’s an historic budget surplus,” Kaul said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state to make investments in critical services.”
Kaul said that the work performed by the State Crime Lab has become more complex.
“Our toxicologists are seeing mixtures of drugs that are very different from what they’ve seen before,” Kaul said. “Twenty years ago, they would get a submission and it would be, say, cocaine. Now, it often involves multiple chemical compounds.”
Kaul said that input from State Bar members is vital to DOJ’s mission.
“It’s really valuable to hear from members of the community, particularly from people who are involved in the justice system about things that you’re seeing and challenges you’re facing, because as we work together we can identify issues and we can work to solve them,” Kaul said.
Members of the State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors approved a motion authorizing the Standing Committee on Professional Ethics to file a petition with Wisconsin Supreme Court. The petition asks the supreme court to make changes to the attorneys’ oath.
Board Approves New Oath
Board members also approved a motion authorizing the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Ethics to file a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court to modify Supreme Court Rule 40.15, the attorney’s oath.
The committee requested the authority to file the petition.
The wording of the oath has been unchanged since 1908, and in a memo to the board submitted earlier this year, the committee said that parts of the oath were inconsistent with ethics rules. Additionally, the committee pointed out, the oath neglects to mention an attorney’s responsibility to promote equal justice and refrain from discrimination and harassment.
At the February meeting, board members engaged in substantial discussion about retaining the wording “So help me God” in the proposed new version of the oath.
Ben Kempinen, a member of the Committee on Professionals Ethics and a law professor at the U.W. Law School, told board members that the committee had since changed its proposed modifications to allow an applicant to either “swear to God” or affirm his or her allegiance to the oath.
Young Lawyers Division Representative Emil Ovbiagele calls the question during the debate on whether to approve a motion authorizing the Standing Committee on Professional Ethics to file a petition with Wisconsin Supreme Court. The petition asks the supreme court to make changes to the attorneys’ oath.
Board Adopts FY 2024 Budget
The board adopted the fiscal year 2024 (July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024) budget at the meeting.
The State Bar’s Finance Committee and Executive Committee had recommended approving the proposed budget, which includes a 5.5% or $15 member dues increase. Dues for FY 2024 will increase from $272 to $287.
Paul Marshall, the State Bar’s chief financial officer, told the board at its February 2023 meeting that the initial submission of the FY 2024 budget revealed that the State Bar faced a budget gap of $870,000.
Staff worked with the Finance Committee and the Joint Review Committee, with the Joint Review Committee reviewing all State Bar activities for prioritization and relevance. They were able to shrink the budget gap to $300,000 by:
considering personnel and other operational adjustments ($250,000);
including historically based interest and dividend income from investments ($140,000); and
limiting earmarking of dollars from the Building & Equipment Reserve to complement the FY2024 capital budget plus anticipated depreciation expense ($180,000).
The Finance Committee then looked at inflation and the history of dues increases and the associated impact of delaying adjustments in dues and decided that the 5.5% dues increase of $15 was necessary to close the $300,000 gap and achieve an operational breakeven.
President Margaret Hickey (left) and President-elect Dean Dietrich share a light moment.
Crosstown Move for WILMIC
During his report, State Bar Executive Director Larry Martin told board members that later this year the Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (WILMIC) would move into the State Bar Center.
Martin said the move, which he called a “win-win,” was made possible by the advent of pandemic-induced flexible work schedules – a move that’s freed up office space in the State Bar Center because more employees work from home some days.
“WLMIC’s presence in our building will provide us new non-dues revenue stream, further strengthening our overall finances and helping us offset State Bar overhead costs,” Martin said.
Updates to DEIA Action Plan
The board approved updates to the DEIA Action Plan – updates recommended by the DEIA Plan Implementation Oversight Committee as it completed its work.
The committee identified three areas for the State Bar to encourage its members to work on:
outreach to law students; and
In a memo submitted to the board, the committee said that collecting demographic data will enable members to hold the State Bar accountable to addressing diversity and inclusion issues identified in the DEIA Action Plan, which the board passed unanimously in 2018.
The committee said that increasing outreach to law students was important because law students from diverse groups need consistent and meaningful contacts to feel welcome.
“The idea is that before going forward, we are going to concentrate on taking all the information we have and work it so that we get the information out to everybody – all lawyers, all firms a – about where we stand in terms of diversity and inclusion,” said Past President Cheryl Daniels.
“We also want to make sure that all the organizations know that everybody needs to be a part of this,” Daniels said.
District 2 Governor Mary Schanning asks Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul a question.
Encomium for Myron LaRowe
Martin also noted the recent passing of former State Bar President Myron La Rowe.
Martin said that for LaRowe, who practiced in Reedsburg, law was more than a profession – it was a calling.
“Along with his faith and family, [the law] was a central part of who he was, and it included a lifelong commitment to service and giving back to his profession and community,” Martin said.
“Myron was a true role model,” Martin said. “He was an example of the positive impact that being a lawyer can have in the civic and social fabric of a community.”
Board Fills District 10 Vacancy
In other business, the board filled a vacancy in District 10.
The board elected Luis Garza to fill the position vacated by Gov. Starlyn Tourtillott Miller, who resigned effective Feb. 9, 2023.
Garza, who’s based in Keshena, has practiced law in Wisconsin since 1993. He represents clients in the Menominee, Stockbridge-Munsee, and Oneida
Board members also discussed proposed revisions to the State Bar Administrative Policies and Procedures and recommendations for updating the State Bar’s strategic plan.
The proposed changes to the policies and procedures would update the State Bar’s social media policy, which was adopted in 2013.
Under the proposed changes, the State Bar would be authorized to: 1) take down accounts that have been abandoned; and 2) take down sites found to be in violation of content guidelines, which remain unchanged since 2013.
Dietrich told board members that updating the strategic plan was vital.
“This is one of the most important responsibilities of the board of directors, to set the strategic plan for the bar,” Dietrich said. “The changes that were made by the committee do a wonderful job of clarifying in a couple of paragraphs some confusing language.”
Law Foundation Kicks Off ‘Every Member, Every Year’ Campaign
The Wisconsin Law Foundation will launch its ‘Every Member, Every Year’ campaign in May. The campaign will allow the Foundation to:
expand grants made to new lawyers working with underserved populations;
educate high school students about the rule of law and civics, through the mock trial program;
help new lawyers develop leadership skills, to serve the legal profession and Wisconsin communities; and
promote programs designed to strengthen our justice system.
State Bar Executive Director Larry Martin made the announcement during his report to the State Bar’s Board of Governors at its April 14 meeting.
As part of the campaign, the Foundation is asking every member of the State Bar to make a donation, in any amount, to the Foundation at least once a year.
“Having the annual support of all 25,000 State Bar members will empower us to continue to support critically needed programs and services at a time when demand and need has never been higher,” Martin said.