Can a quasi-government agency avoid dysfunction when it has dual roles as regulator protecting the public from unethical lawyers and as trade association promoting lawyers’ professional and economic interests? District 20 House Member Anthony Kern says “No, it can’t.”
For this reason, he has introduced House Bills 2295 and 2300 to improve the regulation of lawyers by de-coupling the State Bar of Arizona’s dual mission of protecting the public from its lawyers while at the same time promoting the interests of lawyers. The bills place all public protection mandates entirely under state supreme court control and active supervision and minimize the regulatory independence of the lawyer-controlled State Bar of Arizona. Mandatory dues assessments paid by lawyers not taxpayers would remain in place for their regulation and discipline.
According to Rep. Kern, “The bills resolve the conflict of interest that exists when a quasi-public organization that licenses lawyers and is supposed to regulate their conduct also remains beholden to lawyer interests. Neither the public or lawyers are going to be well served by such a conflict.”
During the last legislative session, Kern championed a bill that became law that expanded free speech on college campuses by removing restrictive speech zones at community colleges and state-run universities. He believes these lawyer regulation bills also expand First Amendment free speech. “I strongly believe in our Constitution,” he declared. “These bills protect the rights of free speech and free association secured by the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions. Improving the practice of law and protecting the public through lawyer regulation are important functions. But I fail to see why doing so requires lawyers to give up their First Amendment freedoms by forcing them to pay for the Bar’s ideological or political viewpoints they may not agree with.”
HB 2295 and 2300 do not dismantle the State Bar. Under both bills, the State Bar of Arizona continues to perform its lawyer trade association functions on behalf of Arizona lawyers but the State Bar would be limited to collecting only voluntary membership dues for non-regulatory programs and activities. Under HB 2295, the Bar would be required to file annual independently audited public accountings.
HB 2295 also promotes transparency by further providing that should the State Bar accept any mandatory assessment monies collected by the supreme court to carry out a regulatory function for the court, the Bar would automatically be subject to open records and public meeting laws.