Utah Lawyer Calls State Bar Membership Unconstitutional

A Utah attorney filed a federal lawsuit challenging the requirement that attorneys join the state bar.

A Utah attorney brought a federal lawsuit against the state bar association Tuesday. (Photo from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

(CN) — A Utah attorney sued the state bar association on Tuesday claiming it spent mandatory dues on political and ideological speech she disagrees with in violation of her First and 14th Amendment rights.

The Utah State Bar mandates membership in order to practice law and includes 12,000 lawyers and judges.

Over the last year, the bar has taken stances on a number of issues from opposing a proposed legal services tax to declaring court rooms a “safe space.” According to attorney Amy Pomeroy’s 30-page complaint, filed in federal court in Utah, these stances are based on ideology that does not reflect her views.

“Nothing on the website indicates that there are attorneys such as plaintiff Pomeroy who dissent from the USB,” the complaint states. “The USB’s lack of safeguards to ensure that members are not required to pay for political and ideological speech and other activities not germane to regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services injures plaintiff Amy Pomeroy because she does not want to fund such activities in any amount.”

Annual fees cost $425 plus a contribution to the “client security fund,” and may be subjected to late fees of $100 to $200 if posted late.

The bar currently allows members to apply for a rebate of their dues if they do not wish to fund lobbying efforts for public policy issues, but Pomeroy claimed the links she was provided with were dead ends.

Pomeroy contends the state bar does readily provide information on what portion of the funds are spent on lobbying efforts and for what causes.

“As our state continues to grow and change, we anticipate there will be other major issues that will require the Bar’s input,” the organization declared in the January/February issue of the Utah Bar Journal.

In the March/April issue, Pomeroy claimed the journal included an article “reviewing a book proposing criminal penalties ‘up to and including incarceration’ for any person ‘who is made aware of a sexual assault but focuses on protecting the institution in which it occurs rather than the survivor of the assault’; and articles invoking the concept of ‘implicit bias.’”

The bar also opposed a legislative bill that would have replaced the system of appointing judges with nonpartisan elections and instructed members and their clients to do so as well.

Pomeroy is represented by Jacob Huebert, of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare forced membership with the bar unconstitutional or at the very least to wave the mandatory fees and cover Pomeroy’s attorneys fees.

The Goldwater Institute did not respond to inquiries before publication. The Utah State Bar declined to comment.

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