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Texas Bar president questions mandatory dues

January 25, 2019

Joe Longley, the president of the State Bar of Texas, sent a letter last week to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that questions the legality of the state legal organization’s ability to charge dues to its members that allow many of the programs it funds to exist.

An Austin trial lawyer, Longley states that there are “some members” of the 100,000 member legal group who are being forced to pay dues and fund programs they morally oppose because membership in the state bar is required for al lawyers in Texas.

The result, according to lawyers familiar with the issues, could result in key state bar projects and educational initiatives - such as legal training programs that address homelessness or elderly abuse, projects that promote the importance of the Texas jury system or pro bono representation of veterans - being defunded and discontinued.

In a nine-page letter written on state bar letterhead, Longley particularly takes aim at the Texas Young Lawyers Association, which he argues has an unconstitutionally elected leadership and has programs that are being improperly funded by the full state bar organization.

Longley asks Paxton to issue a legal opinion on whether the state bar is violating the constitution when it uses membership dues to pay for matters that some members find objectionable.

Paxton should also provide a legal analysis on whether the TYLA, which includes attorneys who are 36 years or younger and accounts for 26 percent of the overall state bar membership, should be able to have three of its members serve on the 46-member State Bar of Texas board of directors - a fact that Longley claims violates the “one-person, one-vote” requirement of the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.

Paxton confirmed that he received Longley’s letter, but he gave no indication when he might respond with an official legal opinion on the questions presented.

“Is it constitutional to require bar members to pay compulsory bar dues, including

to support bar programs … that bar members object to on First Amendment grounds), including programs that are not within the regulatory functions of the state bar?” Longley wrote to Paxton.

“Is it constitutional to require bar members to pay compulsory bar dues to support TYLA, but to deny active non-TYLA members the right to vote on TYLA officers who sit on the state bar’s governing Board of Directors?”

Longley initially made his challenge at a meeting of the State Bar of Texas board of directors in mid-January. The meeting did not go as planned for Longley, however, when the 46-member board unanimously - Longley abstained - to endorse and continue to support the TYLA in its current fashion.

“The request for an attorney general’s opinion was prepared and submitted without approval from the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors, which is the board’s governing body,” State Bar Executive Director Trey Apffel said in a written statement to The Texas Lawbook. “It would be premature for me to comment on the request until our board has a chance to review this matter.

“We are confident that the State Bar of Texas is in compliance with election laws, the State Bar Act and other applicable laws,” Apffel said. “This confidence was exhibited by the board’s unanimous affirmation of its current election system at its meeting last Friday.”

Houston trial lawyer Randy Sorrels, who is the state bar’s president-elect and will replace Longley in June, said Longley received a letter in October challenging the TYLA that “caused Joe to scratch his head” and raise these issues.

“I think Joe has made up his mind on this, but I am not offended that he asked the Attorney General for an opinion,” Sorrels told The Texas Lawbook. “There is a lot of legal authority out there that supports the bar’s current methods.

For a longer version of this article, please visit TexasLawbook.net.

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