A state judge has thrown out a case from a New Orleans attorney suing the Louisiana Bar Association for forcing him to pay dues. Randy Boudreaux argued in a lawsuit filed last year that mandatory bar membership violates his constitutional rights of free speech and free association because the bar takes political positions he opposes.
“Since joining the Louisiana Bar Association, I have paid thousands of dollars in dues. This wouldn’t be an issue, if the money I am forced to pay to the Louisiana Bar Association wasn’t being used to advocate against principles and causes I believe in deeply,” says Boudreaux.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said in his decision that many of Boudreaux’s claims of harm were speculative or were outside his jurisdiction because they involved state issues. However, he said Boudreaux did have a genuine argument that mandatory bar membership compels speech and association.
But Africk also said he was bound by a 1990 Supreme Court decision, which allowed mandatory bar membership as long as members are given an opportunity to challenge expenses with which they disagree.
Bob Kutcher, president of the Louisiana State Bar Association, was thrilled with Africk’s ruling. At stake for Kutcher is roughly $4 million collected each year from Louisiana attorneys in the way of mandatory dues. The $4 million represents more than half of the Louisiana Bar’s total yearly budget.
"We were very pleased with the judge's decision. It was very well-reasoned. It is consistent with every other district court and appellate court who has considered the issue of a mandatory bar," said Kutcher.
But one of Boudreaux’s attorneys, Loyola law school professor Dane Ciolino, said the ruling was not a surprise to him or his client. Ciolino says he will appeal the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We have always known that if the rules are going to get changed with regard to mandatory bar membership, it was going to have to come from either the 5th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Ciolino.
It’s no secret lawyers in Louisiana are a powerful bunch, especially now, with one of their own, John Bel Edwards, serving as governor. The “judicial hellhole” they’ve created in our state by manipulating the political process has made a lot of them very wealthy. It’s also crippled the oil industry and led to some of the highest auto-insurance premiums in the country. The premiums are especially high for businesses operating commercial vehicles.
Boudreaux, who makes a living defending insurance companies, calls forcing him to pay dues to the Louisiana Bar Association un-American.
“It is routine for the Louisiana Bar Association to spend tens of thousands of dollars lobbying for all types of issues at the State Capitol. These aren’t issues simply related to the practice of law either. I didn’t consent for the Louisiana Bar Association to speak for me on the death penalty, the right to bear arms and many other issues, yet they continue to advocate for legislation that runs contrary to my beliefs. If I refuse to allow my money to be used to support causes I oppose, I lose a career I’ve worked very hard to earn,” says Boudreaux.
Boudreaux says he will take his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
“For too long, the Louisiana Bar Association has claimed to speak for me, while using my money to do it. I will no longer be silent about mine or my fellow lawyers’ constitutional rights.”
Currently there are 18 states that do not require attorneys to join the bar association to practice law. The free market-based groups, the Pelican Institute and the Goldwater Institute have joined in with Boudreaux in his lawsuit.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 in the Janis decision that forcing dues violates the First Amendment rights of workers desiring to opt out of the union. The Janis decision may offer a hint as to how the high court will view mandatory bar association dues.
It’s fundamentally wrong to force someone to choose between giving up their job or giving money to an organization they disagree with.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com.