Earlier this month I wrote about the State Bar Association of North Dakota using mandatory attorney licensing fees to fund their opposition campaign to Measure 6, the shared parenting measure.
“It is illegal what they are doing,” Mitchell Sanderson, spokesman for the North Dakota Shared Parenting Initiative, told me at the time. “No doubt about it. They’re a mandatory association so they cannot use any funds to lobby against a measure like this.”
But Tony Weiler, the executive director of the state bar, said their activities were perfectly legal. He said the bar association, despite acting in conjunction with the state to regulate the legal industry, is a “private organization” and that Measure 6 wasn’t political but rather social policy.
I’m not sure I buy that last. If it’s on the ballot, and people are debating over it, it is politics.
Well the shared parenting folks are going to make an issue out of this. According to a press release sent out today, they’re demanding a “civil rights” investigation into the SBAND’s use of lawyer fees for politics.
Here’s their full press release:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Four national shared parenting organizations—Leading Women for Shared Parenting, Divorce Corp, Stand Up for Gus and American Coalition for Fathers & Children—today called on Federal and North Dakota authorities to investigate what they believe are civil rights violations by the State Bar Association of North Dakota (SBAND). The four organizations believe that, by using mandatory bar dues to oppose a citizen-led ballot initiative (Measure 6 – Shared Parenting), SBAND has violated its members First Amendment rights.
SBAND created a front organization (“Keeping Kids First”), which is led by a 12 member committee that includes nine divorce attorneys (all members of SBAND) and the SBAND Executive Director, to oppose the initiative. The sole source of funding for Keeping Kids First is $70,000 from SBAND member dues. The organizations believe the public has a right to know when a group presents itself as disinterested, but is instead a front for deeply invested stakeholders.
In a series of decisions over the last 25 years, the U.S. Supreme Court and other Federal courts have analogized mandatory bar associations, like SBAND, to closed-shop unions, and held mandatory bar associations may not force members to subsidize activities not germane to regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services. Lobbying on legislation and ballot initiatives like Measure 6 is not germane.
Other mandatory bar associations have adopted procedures protecting the Constitutional rights of members, but SBAND has not. According to a law review article examining these issues, “the North Dakota procedure is deficient in almost every respect.”
Last year, the Nebraska Supreme Court restructured the Nebraska State Bar Association in response to that mandatory bar association’s lobbying on non-germane legislation, including family law legislation like Measure 6. As a result of that decision, the Nebraska State Bar Association no longer has access to mandatory dues and is now effectively a voluntary organization.
The four organizations have sent this material to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the North Dakota Attorney General and the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
For more information on the North Dakota ballot initiative, please visit www.ndsp4k.com