OMAHA, Nebraska — An Omaha state lawmaker has asked a federal court to put on hold his lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Nebraska's mandatory state bar membership while both sides mull a Nebraska Supreme Court opinion issued last week on the matter.
State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, of Omaha, sued the association last year in federal court, saying the mandatory dues of $335 a year violate the constitutional rights of those lawyers who object to some of the money being used for political, ideological and other activities not germane to regulating the legal profession — such as lobbying lawmakers on various issues. Lautenbaugh argues that it's not fair to members who might oppose those issues to have to help pay for the lobbying effort to pass them.
On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on a separate petition by Lautenbaugh seeking to make bar association membership in Nebraska voluntary. The state's high court ruled that lawyers in Nebraska must still pay annual bar dues to remain in good standing. But the court limited mandatory dues to only activities necessary to regulate the legal profession — like maintaining records, mandating continuing education for lawyers and enforcing the ethical rules of attorneys. The ruling made voluntary those dues that would go for other activities, such as lobbying and running programs like legal self-help desks, legal mentoring programs and a program that helps place lawyers in rural areas.
The changes, which go into effect Jan. 1, will see mandatory fees drop to $98 a year in most cases.
Following that decision, Lautenbaugh and representatives of the state Bar Association agreed to ask the federal court on Tuesday to postpone for 30 days upcoming deadlines for motions in the lawsuit while both sides determine the full impact of the high court's decision.
The two sides have agreed to file a joint status report on the lawsuit by Jan. 15.