BEAUMONT – Should approximately 76,000, due-paying attorneys have the right to vote on the election of Texas Young Lawyers Association officials – that’s the question State Bar President Joe Longley is asking Attorney General Ken Paxton to answer.
Paxton’s office received the request on Jan. 22, which seeks to clarify whether the State Bar’s current method of conducting statewide elections is constitutional, or does it unlawfully deny “senior” members the right to vote on the TYLA president, who sits on the board.
All State Bar members who are 36 years old and younger, or who have been licensed for less than five years, are automatically members of TYLA.
While TYLA members may vote for the positions of TYLA president and State Bar president, the reverse is not true. Approximately 76,000 bar members (who comprise around 75 percent of all members) are denied the right to vote in statewide elections conducted by the bar to determine the TYLA president-elect.
The request asks if it’s unconstitutional to deny equal voting rights on the basis of age and licensure.
Furthermore, State Bar members must also pay mandatory dues that support TYLA and legislative programs – programs that not all members wish to support.
According to Longley’s request, the present concerns arose among State Bar members because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Janus v. AFSCME and Fleck v. Wetch.
In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, the high court found in favor of Mark Janus, a child support specialist, returning First Amendment rights to public sector workers and essentially finding that millions of public servants no longer have to pay a government union as a condition of employment.
Fleck v. Wetch challenged the mandatory fees attorneys pay to state bars. The case was recently remanded to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the Janus ruling. The Eight Circuit had previously found it constitutional for bar associations to charge dues to members.
“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 site on the State Bar’s governing Board of Directors?” asks Longley in his opinion request.
Some State Bar members have also objected to the collection of mandatory dues that support various legislative programs, asserting violations to their First Amendment right of free-speech, according to the request.
The current State Bar budget totals nearly $50 million -- $927,418 of which goes to support TYLA. Around $600,000 of that TYLA total is for meetings, awards, travel and staff. Some members have objected to those expenditures as excessive and unnecessary, according to the request.
TYLA describes itself as the “public service arm” of the State Bar and operates programs that help the homeless and elderly.
“While many Bar members and TYLA members view those programs as worthy and important, other … members view those programs as inappropriate and beyond the regulatory functions of the State Bar,” the request states.
“The State Bar, of course, desires to comply with the law and the Texas and United States Constitutions. However, given Janus and Fleck, at present the State Bar is in need of further guidance concerning the procedures and circumstances pertaining to the collection of compulsory Bar dues to support an array of programs on which Bar members may disagree.”
Longley did not return a request for comment.
Request No. 0265-KP