Board approves Bar fee increase

first_imgBoard approves Bar fee increase Board approves Bar fee increase Senior Editor Saying they had little choice, members of The Florida Bar Board of Governors have approved overwhelmingly the first increase in annual membership fees in 11 years. If approved by the Supreme Court, fees for the 2001-02 fiscal year will rise from $190 to $265 for active members and from $140 to $175 for inactive members. Board members, at their December 15 meeting in Coral Gables, said after they examined the numbers provided by the Budget Committee, they concluded there was no alternative but to approve the hike if the Bar were to remain an effective voice for the public and the profession. Most, although not all, said the lawyers they represent either supported the raise or at least did not oppose it. Budget Committee Chair Jesse Diner said the only opposition the committee received was six letters. He noted that without the fee increase, the Bar is facing a period of increasing deficits. The deficit was about $50,000 two years ago, rose to more than $1 million last year and could top $1.8 million for the current budget year, he said. Diner also said that the $190 approved in the 1990-91 budget would require $252 because of inflation today. Board member Louis “Buck” Vocelle said while he personally supported the increase, he had gotten the most input of any issue during his six years on the board from his circuit members “and they are overwhelmingly against it.” He said the 19th Circuit lawyers felt it was too big of an increase at one time. “I’ve had the exact opposite experience,” said board member David Welch of the 17th Circuit. “To a person, every lawyer that I’ve talked to in my area said, `This is a no-brainer; why didn’t this happen before now?’ You’re talking about, basically, a cost of living equalization as opposed to a raise.” National Bar Association Virgil Hawkins Chapter President Craig Gibbs, representative to the board, said his members also opposed the increase. They supported, he said, a two-tiered system with lower dues for newer Bar members. Diner said the Budget Committee considered a tiered system, but decided it wasn’t practical. Budget Committee chair-elect William Kalish said the main Bar expenses were for the discipline system and CLE programs, and those help all lawyers. Board member John Hume noted he has opposed many Bar programs, but is convinced the hike in the annual fees is needed. “We are the defenders of the idea of the rule of law and we have to have strength to carry out our mission,” he said. “The fee increase is necessary to carry out that mission.” “This board made a decision nearly a year ago to take aggressive stands against multidisciplinary practices, and, at the time we made that decision, we made a commitment to our lawyers who were being adversely impacted by de facto MDP,” said board member William “Dude” Phelan. “Our commitment was we would not make this a one-vote wonder, that we would make this a commitment to enforcing the rules. “That takes money. There’s barely money now to do what we’re already doing,” he added, calling the increase “a war chest to put our money where our mouth is.” The board approved the Budget Committee’s motion for the increase overwhelmingly on a voice vote. Bar President Herman Russomanno praised the work of the Budget Committee and the dedication of the board in reviewing the fiscal numbers. “We are here to protect the financial interests of all the members of this Bar,” he said. According to Budget Committee figures, the increase in the annual membership fee is expected to restore the Bar budget to the black for several years. But Diner warned much will depend on how well the Bar does with its investments, noting budget projections are based on the Bar earning eight percent annually. The proposed hike must also be approved by the Supreme Court, since current Bar rules limit Bar fees to a maximum of $190. The fee hike proposal was brought to the board ahead of the 2001-2002 budget because of the time necessary to amend the rules. January 1, 2001 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular Newslast_img

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