Members of the D.C. Bar, in an unprecedented turnout, have voted to put a ceiling on bar dues of $75 a year and limit bar activities mainly to discipline and registration of lawyers -- thus eliminating bar funding of a wide range of public service projects.
Ultimately, the D.C. Court of Appeals, which oversees bar actions, will make the final decision on both questions, which have been the subject of intense debate in legal circles for months. All lawyers who practic in the District must belong to the D.C. Bar.
Bar president Stephen J. Pollak announced yesterday that the membership voted 9,168 to 2,778 to keep a $75 ceiling on bar dues. The bar's board of governors had asked the appeals court to approve a $150 ceiling -- a request that will now have to be changed. Lawyers now pay $65 a year in dues.
In a closer vote of 6,721 to 5,189, the members also approved a measure that would restrict use of dues to activities directly related to monitoring lawyers in the city, such as registration and disciplinary action. Other activities, such as a lawyer referral service, professional magazines and a citizens advisory committee, would have to be supported by donations.
Pollak, who had lobbied unsuccessfully for defeat of both measures, said yesterday he was saddened by the outcome of the vote, which he saw as a rejection of the bar's current mandate" to fulfil its public responsibilities and improve the administration of justice."
Lawyer John C. Salyer, who helped lead support for restricting bar activities, said the vote was a "big victory for the rank-and-file members" of the bar, who had complained that the bar leadership had been ignoring the wishes of the membership. Forty-nine percent of the 26,000 lawyers eligible voted on the questions,bar officials said.
Salyer and others had argued that as a organization with mandatory membership, the bar was prohibited from spending dues on anything other than areas such as lawyer discipline.