Paula C. Littlewood
WSBA Executive Director
THE DIALOGUE CONTINUES
In December 2016, the WSBA Board of Governors (BOG) and Executive Management Team held a series of phone calls and an online chat with members in order to listen to you, and in particular to learn what services and benefits are most important to you. In September 2016, the Board
had voted to set the active license fee for attorneys at $449, $453, and $458 for
the years 2018-2020. This decision was the culmination of receiving member
feedback and working with WSBA volunteers over the last several years in order
to maintain and enhance the programs and services that members value, while
keeping fees as low as possible for as long as possible by making program cuts,
reducing staff and our programming footprint, renegotiating our lease and strategically using reserves.
In the wake of the Board’s September 2016 decision on license fees, a petition
was circulated among the membership that, if passed, would have kept license fees
at the 2017 level and tied any future increases to the Seattle-area consumer price
index (CPI). Under the WSBA Bylaws, such a petition must be signed by 5% of the
active membership in order to require a vote on the petition. While the requisite
number of signatures was received and certified, the Supreme Court, acting under
its plenary authority and explicitly under GR 12. 1(b)( 22), issued an order on Jan.
5, 2017, stating that the fees set by the Board for 2018-2020 were reasonable, and
that the fees that would be set if the petition were to pass were not reasonable nor
was tying future fee increases to the CPI reasonable.
The Court acted in its administrative capacity, as the Court has sole and exclusive authority over the regulation of the practice of law in the state as well
as over the WSBA, both in relation to its regulatory work and other ancillary
functions (see “What’s the Supreme Court Have to Do With It?” Sep 2016
NWLawyer). GR 12 specifically describes the Court’s authority to conduct a reasonableness review over license fees; however, the order did not address whether
under the WSBA Bylaws the vote should still be held on the petition.
At its January 26-27 meeting, the Board considered this issue and voted
to not hold a referendum vote on the license fee petition filed with the WSBA
in December 2016. The Board, after discussion and consideration of various
options, found that the petition did not qualify under GR 12, as required by the WSBA
Bylaws on referenda, because of the Court’s order finding the fees set by the Board to
be reasonable and finding the fee that would be set if the petition were to pass to be unreasonable. The Board further concluded that any vote would be fiscally unsound and
futile given the Court’s order and that the outcome potentially could be in violation of a
Supreme Court order.
with Robin L. Haynes, WSBA President