By Corinne Murdock |
Arizona attorneys may no longer have to have membership within the State Bar of Arizona in order to practice law in the state. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill prohibiting the Arizona Supreme Court from requiring attorneys to have any organization membership in order to become or remain a licensed attorney. Like the bill’s passage in the Senate, the bill passed along party lines in committee.
State Senator Vince Leach (R-Tucson), the bill sponsor, shared that Attorney General Mark Brnovich had to hire an attorney to litigate a case because his attorneys were under State Bar investigation due to complaints from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Leach said that the secretary of state was “weaponizing a tool within the legal system.” However, he noted that those 12 bar complaints disappeared after he introduced the bill.
Leach added that many attorneys who wanted to speak on the bill didn’t show up because they were afraid of upsetting the status quo.
“They won’t come here because the State Bar, which is designed to protect the industry, and — if this is a word, if it’s not a word, I’m still going to say it — lawyering to look out for the good of the legal profession. You have members that are forced to pay $500-and-some-odd, don’t want to come here and say ‘Yeah there’s a problem with the bar,’” said Leach.
Leach encouraged the committee to view the State Bar as a corporation, and to question their practices and lobbying activities.
State Representative Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek) asked Leach if union membership was required for the practice of other professions in the state, to which Leach replied no — Arizona is a right to work state.
State Bar of Arizona President Jennifer Rebholz expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that the Arizona Supreme Court should have its decision to require bar membership respected as a matter of separation of powers. The representative insisted that the state bar wasn’t a union, but rather a conduit for the will and disciplinary authority of the supreme court.
Carter recounted the history behind state bars, pointing to the feudalist systems which required a state bar of sorts to act as an intermediary between the courts and the people. He expressed concern about the fact that attorneys didn’t testify on the bill out of fear of retaliation from the State Bar.
“It seems to me the whole system was borne out of a kind of restricting access idea and that today it drives up cost for legal services, so that those who need it the most — indigent people, people accused of crimes and so on, particularly adversely affects minorities and others than those who have the money to pay for lawyers because it drives up costs,” said Carter. “I also think it makes it harder for those people to join the profession themselves. It really is a sort of anti-democratic, anti-American, anti-equality, anti-access to justice system.”
State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) insisted that individuals weaponize the bar and that it should function more as a service organization, not a labor union. State Representative Jacqueline Parker (R-Mesa) added that the State Bar was far from unbiased.
In their opposition, committee Democrats concurred with Rebholz’s perspective that the State Bar was crucial to the separation of powers.