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ND attorney sues bar association, claiming improper spending of member dues

Arnold Fleck

BISMARCK — A lawsuit filed by a Bismarck attorney will appear before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Tuesday, April 4, claiming the North Dakota State Bar Association spent his dues to oppose a ballot measure he supported.

Arnold Fleck, 59, a self-employed attorney and member of the association, is being represented by the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based public policy think tank, in his lawsuit that argues the association contributed nearly $50,000 to a PAC opposing a shared parenting time and responsibility bill in 2014. An amended version of that bill — though shot down by voters twice in the past decade — just passed the Senate last week and before the state bar opposed the legislation, it took a neutral stance on the measure.

Fleck supported the bill and said previously that social scientists agree shared parenting should happen in a majority cases, but he said that isn't the case in North Dakota. The state bar used Fleck's money, along with all state bar members' mandatory dues, to fund "Keeping Kids First," a committee opposing the measure, despite Fleck appearing on TV as a vocal advocate for the bill. He claims his bar dues were improperly spent and used in violation of his First and 14th Amendment rights.

"Because Mr. Fleck is required to pay dues to the Bar, he was in the position of either continuing to fund political speech he opposes in order to earn a living as an attorney or finding another line of work," a Goldwater press release states.

Since Goldwater filed the lawsuit on behalf of Fleck in 2014, the state bar has adopted and implemented procedures that provide some protections for the free speech rights of North Dakota attorneys. But Fleck wants "more radical changes to the way the Bar operates," according to the release. By bringing the lawsuit to St.Louis, the case is one step closer to U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is addressing two additional issues: requiring the bar to adopt an "opt-in" for political spending, rather than an opt-out, and challenging mandatory bar membership as a violation of the First Amendment.

Listed as defendants in the lawsuit are state bar board of governors: past president Joe Wetch, secretary/treasurer Aubrey Fiebelkorn-Zuger, executive director Tony Weiler and state board of law examiners secretary/ treasurer Penny Miller.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyat is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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