• Feb 4, 2016
  • Bar bifurcation, First Amendment Freedoms, State Bar of Arizona

PHOENIX — “The State Bar of Arizona cannot effectively serve two masters. The interests of the public and the interests of lawyers are not the same.” With this declaration, District 20 House Member Anthony Kern introduced House Bill 2119 this week to improve the regulation of lawyers by separating 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 bill places all public protection mandates entirely under direct state supreme court supervision and minimizes the regulatory independence of the lawyer-controlled State Bar of Arizona. Mandatory assessments to regulate and discipline lawyers would continue being paid by lawyers not taxpayers.

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.”

The Glendale lawmaker also declared, “I strongly believe in our Constitution. House Bill 2119 also protects the rights of free speech 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 2119 does not dismantle the State Bar. The State Bar of Arizona would continue performing its lawyer trade association functions on behalf of Arizona lawyers but the State Bar would be limited to collecting only voluntary membership dues for trade association programs and activities. Under the legislation, the State Bar would also be required to file annual independently audited public accountings.

And 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 Arizona public records and public meeting laws.