WSBA Board Member Bill Viall Weighs In on the Board’s R-74 Decision

A year ago, with a very small percentage of the lawyers in my district participating in the election (less than 10 percent) and with a very tiny margin of victory (less than 10 votes), I was humbly elected to serve the Bar and the public, a job I take seriously. The last sentence of Lincoln’s second Inaugural has always been my guide and personal credo when serving the public: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”

As has been communicated, at our September Board meeting there was a motion passed to support the R-74 campaign. However, I voted “no” on the Board taking a position and because the vote was split, I think it’s important you hear perspectives from both sides of that vote.

In recent years, the Board of Governor’s has broadly interpreted the meaning of “the practice of law and administration of justice” in the context of lobbying the legislature and advising elected officials and in 2008, in that context adopted a policy supporting marriage equality.

In my opinion, the Board’s recent vote to support R-74 was a step too far. The right of Referendum is reserved by our state constitution to the people.  In my view, the Bar is not given the power to take a political position on an issue subject to the vote of the people. I believe we should be taking our lead from the State Supreme Court, which is to remain silent on this issue or any other such political issue and let the voters decide per the constitution.

I also believe that the method for consideration prior to our vote was not procedurally sufficient. We had less than 24 hours to give notice to our constituents that this issue would be put before us for a vote.

It is also difficult for me to ignore that the Listening Tour conducted by President Steve Crossland and Executive Director Paula Littlewood resulted in the delivery of some clear messages, one of which was that the great majority of those they spoke with on the tour believed that WSBA should stick to its core functions of licensing, discipline, and the betterment of law.

Finally, I want to reiterate that my “no” vote had nothing to do with endorsing or not endorsing same-sex marriage. I don’t believe that’s the issue. The issues are whether this action lies within the purview of our power and authority and whether it is in the best interest of the bar and the public for the WSBA to take a position. In my opinion, the answer to both is clearly no.

13 thoughts on “WSBA Board Member Bill Viall Weighs In on the Board’s R-74 Decision

  1. Lavaux

    “Seems like a law that would enshrine discrimination and deprive citizens of fundamental rights fundamentally undermines efforts for “the betterment of the law” and directly relates to the ‘administration of justice.'”

    So before the WA legislature amended Title 26 to redefine marriage, Washington law and social practice enshrined discrimination and deprived citizens of fundamental rights? And none of us were aware of this until the last few years? Ah, I see… well actually I don’t see because this claim seems utterly risible to me. In 2008 I wasn’t practicing enshrined discrimination, but in 2012 I was, and I didn’t even know it; I was just doing what parents did, and their parents before them, and their parents before them…

    So why is the WSBA supporting nonsense? Because those who govern its operations believe it ought to regardless of whether its doing so detracts from the WSBA’s reputation and authority vis á vis its own members and the public. So how do we WSBA members educate those who govern the WSBA’s operations regarding the WSBA’s proper roles? Perhaps another fee reduction is in order.

  2. Brian H. Krikorian

    Rick, it’s not poor logic to say I don’t want to pay dues to an organization that takes political and social positions I don’t agree with. Unfortunately I can’t make a living without paying my dues to the WSBA, and as one of the poster’s pointed out, deducting $6.40 for my dues is not enough. Nor is “voting” for different representation. If you want an organization that advocates socially liberal or conservative positions then someone should form a voluntary advocacy group like the ABA and its voluntary dues paying members can advocate for anything they please.

    The “betterment of the law” is an emorphous term. What they ought to be concerned with is the “betterment” of the legal profession.

  3. Lavaux

    You’re right about the WSBA going way too far beyond its core mission and wading into politics where it doesn’t belong. However, I don’t think leftists can resist corrupting every facet of their lives or ours with their politics. Worse, they put those of us who see things differently on constant guard of being ostracized or even persecuted should we openly disagree with them.

    I’m unwilling to tolerate this intolerant atmosphere and will vote against my WSBA board member for supporting R-74, just as I will vote against R-74 for the hostility it will inevitably engender towards people who believe traditional marriage is best for society.

  4. Rick Till

    Wow, I’m surprised by the poor logic in the complaints about the BoG actions.

    Taking the lead of the Supreme Court and remain silent? I think the Supreme Court remains silent for a specific reason, because it may hear an appeal of the referendum and should not appear to prejudge cases. WSBA isn’t a court and does not need to apear impartial. The same rules do not apply.

    Separation of powers principles? That relates to branches of government, not bar associations. The WSBA isn’t intruding on the powers of any branch of government and there no apparent justification for applying that constitutional principle to a professional organization.

    A compulsory organization can’t hold political positions? Sure it can, particularly when its allowed by its bylaws , the members can elect their representatives to interpret those laws, and those representatives take a vote to endorse a political position.

    You don’t need a licensing organization telling you how to vote? Great, no licensing organization is telling you how to vote. An organization is just endorsing a position. You’re free to vote differently.

    Based on the sources provided in this thread, WSBA’s core mission includes “the betterment of law” and it has authority to take position on political issues related to “the administration of justice.” Seems like a law that would enshrine discrimination and deprive citizens of fundamental rights fundamentally undermines efforts for “the betterment of the law” and directly relates to the “administration of justice.” Seems like a reasonable interpretation of the rules. If you don’t like it, you’re free to vote for different representatives.

  5. Chris Evans

    Thank you Bill for standing up on this very important issue. Its not whether R-74 should be approved, but whether the WSBA has authority to use our compulsory association to promote others to do so.

    I, together with 41 other concerned attorneys, recently sent an objection and protest letter to the BoG, citing the Keller restrictions with respect to mandatory bar associations and political activities as well as Article I.C.2 of the WSBA bylaws that expressly prohibit the organization from taking “positions on political or social issues which do not relate to or affect the practice of law or the administration of justice.”

    The WSBA reply? Your “remedy is to take the so-called Keller deduction” – a lousy $6.40. And as for the Bylaws, the reply reads, the BoG “has adopted these provisions and therefore has the authority to interpret them.”

    So, why have bylaws at all if the members can’t enforce them against the governing body?

    Object to the unlawful use of your funds to promote a political agenda? Go eat cake…with your own $6.40 of course.

    The WSBA should respect the separation of powers principles that form the framework of our constitution and simply stay out of politics.

  6. Brian

    Bill, I agree with your expressed view and very much appreciate your willingness to share it with WSBA members. Moreover, whatever your view of R-74 is, people of good will can and certainly do disagree on the wisdom of R-74.

    Perhaps another way to consider the question of WSBA support for the R-74 campaign is to ask whether the same Board members who voted to support R-74, and those rank-and-file members who agree with the vote, if they would agree that a Board vote opposing R-74 would also be within the meaning of “the practice of law and administration of justice”. If so, I would still disagree with them, but I would applaud their intellectual honesty.

    My own view of any organization such as WSBA that has the force of law behind compulsory dues is that taking sides on social issues is imprudent at best.

  7. Derek Howell

    Thank you, Bill. I appreciate the perspective and the courage it took to share your perspective in an industry that has become increasingly political. I have been puzzled as to why the WSBA felt compelled to weigh in on this measure. As far as I can tell, this is not standard practice. And it represents one more way in which the WSBA oversteps its bounds. I don’t need a licensing organization to tell me how to vote. I resent that especially when they use my money to convert a licensing organization into a politicized body.

    As for Steve Strong’s comment, to compare the WSBA to a city council seems like a stretch to me. A city has broader responsibilities to its populace, by definition. The WSBA exists for a narrower range of purposes. Degrees of difference are still difference.

  8. Brian H. Krikorian

    Now you can understand why a majority of lawyers voted to reduce our dues. Sorry. The WSBA represents (and regulates) ALL lawyers and has no business wading into politics. I can’t cancel my WSBA membership like I can other “voluntary” bar associations if I disagree with their political positions. The Bar should stick with regulating the legal profession and stay out of politics. It doesn’t speak for me.

  9. Steve Strong

    Other “mandatory” organizations such as cities, through their city councils, often weigh in with recommendations on ballot issues, not candidates. Your “mandatory” organization argument is completely contrary to the normal practice here and presumably is some sort of excuse for not stating what you think the best position is on this matter.

  10. WSBA

    Bill’s response: “To answer your question, to my knowledge the WSBA has not endorsed a referendum previously, which was also the context in which the BOG discussed the matter. The WSBA is a mandatory organization involved in the licensing and regulation of the practice of law. Due to this mandatory component, I believe we should be circumspect and limit our legislative comments to elected officials on matters that effect the practice of law and its administration. This is within the grant of the power that we are given, while commenting to the voting public on a referendum, is beyond that scope in my view. It is one thing to lobby the legislature and another to lobby the population as a whole, which is what endorsing the referendum accomplishes. You are free to believe that this is a distinction without a difference. Conversely, I believe this is a bright line. The legal and political views of the tens of thousands of lawyers that make up the WSBA on this subject or any other matter which is the subject of a referendum are as varied as those of the population, so it not our responsibility to attempt to monolithically declare a position to which many do not subscribe. More importantly, the constitutional process of referendum is sufficient to the decision making purpose and individual members of the Bar are free to advance individually or through political campaigns they deem to be reflective of the position they might wish to advance. The Mandatory Bar Association is not that forum.”

  11. Richard Wood

    Bill, with all due respect, the WSBA doesn’t “vote” on any ballot measure as an entity. So saying the Board of Governors overstepped their boundaries because the referendum process is “reserved by our state constitution to the people” is weak.

    An endorsement doesn’t impede the rights “reserved by our state constitution to the people”. Many organizations “endorse” referendums like this and others. An endorsement is a show of support, you are not buying an election.

    Furthermore, and perhaps this is presumptuous, I hardly believe the members of the WSBA, intelligent, well-educated lawyers, are going to be influenced by your support or lack thereof.

    Has the BoG ever endorsed a referendum? I would assume that they may have once or twice.

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