The PJ Tatler

Advocacy Group Sues Bar Association, Will the Media Care Now?

Last fall I wrote an election and lawyers behaving badly piece, “When is a Possible Legal Violation by Lawyers Worthy of News Coverage?” The short answer, as most readers here can guess, is that any violation by anybody is only worthy of coverage if it advances the preferred media narrative. This one didn’t.

The State Bar of North Dakota had misused mandatory dues to oppose a public referendum on a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting. Studies suggest that shared parenting assumptions lower legal bills as the court expects irreconcilable differences couples, that is those without complications like addictions or abuse issues, to create custody arrangements that allow for at least 30/60% time splits for the children. (Thirty percent is the threshold at which father absence risks fade from statistical significance.) It is usually, but certainly not always, fathers on the receiving end of reduced custody and its nasty complication, parental alienation. And so shared parenting is lazily associated with men’s rights issues, and the media doesn’t much care for stories about men’s hardships in culture. (How many have heard of FACE or seen mainstream news coverage of the Due Process violations men face under Title IX?)

Accordingly, back during the election, the State Bar of North Dakota’s malfeasance didn’t receive much coverage. But now they’ve been sued for First Amendment violations. Here is the press release, The Goldwater Institute Sues North Dakota Bar Association for Violating First Amendment Rights of Local Attorneys.

Why is it a First Amendment case? Basically, when a group, such as a union or bar association, has mandatory membership and mandatory dues requirements, then that group cannot use those compelled funds for political speech. If the group wants to engage in political speech, then they have to give the members an opportunity to opt out, otherwise the group is forcing members to engage in political speech when they do not wish to or do not agree with the group’s position.

A similar suit last year against the Nebraska Bar Association resulted in a complete and close to catastrophic restructuring of that body from a mandatory association to a voluntary organization. Interestingly, it too involved family law and shared parenting. From the National Parents Organization:

But in Nebraska, shared parenting forces have doggedly forced the legislature to confront the realities of children’s suffering in the wake of their parents’ separation. Year after year, they’ve improved legislation that would establish in law what’s actually in children’s interest — meaningful relationships with both parents.

That disturbed the anti-shared-parenting folks to such an extent that Nebraska State Bar Association President Marsha Fangmeyer was driven to outright public lying about the bill.

Embarrassing as that was, though, it was nothing to what came next. The same NSBA routinely lobbied the state legislature on behalf of or in opposition to whatever bills it chose, including shared parenting ones. As a mandatory state bar, that very plainly violated Supreme Court precedent holding that doing so violated the free speech rights of dissenting members. So blatant were the NSBA’s many violations that it found itself on the losing end of a lawsuit brought by aggrieved lawyers. The state Supreme Court’s ruling in the matter all but destroyed the NSBA altogether, slashing its fee structure and sharply restricting its regulatory functions.

The media likes First Amendment stories…when they are about suppression of PC approved speech. Therefore, I hope, but do not expect, much coverage now.