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Nebraska bar association settles lawsuit state senator had filed over mandatory dues

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OMAHA, Nebraska — A dispute over mandatory dues charged by the Nebraska State Bar Association ended Monday with the settlement of a federal lawsuit that questioned whether those dues were constitutional.

State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha had sued the association in 2012, saying he believed the roughly $300 annual dues were improper because some of the money was used for political activities such as lobbying.

Lautenbaugh had said lawyers, like himself, shouldn't be forced to help pay for lobbying to help pass a measure they might oppose.

The association said Monday that the issue was resolved by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling last year. That decision restricted mandatory dues to only those activities needed to regulate the legal profession, such as maintaining records, mandating continuing education for lawyers, and enforcing the ethical rules of attorneys.

The association's mandatory fees dropped to $98 in January for most lawyers. Nebraska lawyers must pay those mandatory fees each year to remain in good standing.

The association said in a statement that money from voluntary dues will support all of the group's lobbying activities and programs like legal self-help desks, legal mentoring programs and a program that helps place lawyers in rural areas.

The settlement requires Lautenbaugh's 2013 dues and his legal expenses of less than $5,000 to be paid.

Lautenbaugh said Monday he was pleased with the outcome and the state Supreme Court's decision to make some of the association's dues voluntary. He said additional changes might be needed in the future depending upon how well the bar association handles the situation.

"We'll have to see how it is applied," Lautenbaugh said.

The association said earlier this month that the change in its dues cut its revenue by $600,000 to about $1.2 million. Officials said that two out of every five members paid only the mandatory $98 membership dues.

So the bar association eliminated six positions, reduced travel, sublet some open office space and ended some events. Officials said some of the association's programs might have to be eliminated if revenue falls further.

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