BISMARCK – An advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the State Bar Association of North Dakota alleging it violated a member lawyer’s rights by donating $50,000 to a campaign he opposed.
The Goldwater Institute filed its civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court here on behalf of Arnold Fleck, a Bismarck lawyer and vocal proponent of Measure 6, a proposed parental rights law, rejected by voters in the November election.
At the crux of the lawsuit is the argument that mandatory state bar associations – groups that require all lawyers licensed in a state to belong – must ensure that dissenting members’ rights are protected.
The lawsuit contends the bar association’s political contributions to defeat Measure 6 violated U.S. Supreme Court-mandated safeguards governing how bar associations can use mandatory member dues to engage in political activity.
The State Bar Association of North Dakota’s board knew of Fleck’s opposition to the position it took in opposing Measure 6 in 2013 and 2014, he said in an interview Wednesday.
Fleck’s lawsuit contends that the bar association failed to get members’ permission to spend money to defeat Measure 6, which would create a legal presumption that each parent is a fit parent and entitled to be awarded equal parental rights by a court.
“They trampled on my rights and the rights of many other attorneys,” Fleck said. “This is a travesty of justice.”
The bar association has not yet filed an answer to the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, but believes its actions were proper, said Tony Weiler, the association’s executive director.
“I think we have a defensible position, and I look forward to presenting a defense to his claims,” Weiler said, but declined to comment further.
Fleck contends that the $50,000 the bar association contributed to the campaign against Measure 6 was pivotal in its defeat.
“They put a stop to a good law,” he said.
North Dakota voters rejected a similar measure in 2006, and the bar association contributed money to defeat that proposal, Fleck and the Goldwater Institute said.
“While brazenly engaging in activities unconnected to regulating attorneys, SBAND lacks anything remotely close to sufficient safeguards to act as a safeguard of its members’ civil rights,” the Goldwater Institute said in announcing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that because Fleck was forced to help fund a political opinion he opposes, his First Amendment rights were violated.
Fleck’s lawsuit also is challenging North Dakota’s requirement that all attorney’s must join the bar association in order to practice law.
Minnesota is one of 18 states that do not require lawyers to join a bar association in order to practice law.