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Ruth’s Soapbox

The Slippery Slope of the Hobby Lobby Fallout

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that a closely-held for-profit company could use their religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to pay for birth control their employees. I think the court was 100% wrong in this decision and I’m annoyed that it’s probably going to take us decades to undo the damage this ruling is going to cause.

Hey, You Got Your Church In My State! by David Goehring from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hey, You Got Your Church In My State! by David Goehring from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’m a huge advocate for the separation of church and state and the notion that people can have whatever religious beliefs they want, as long as they don’t try to inflict them on others. This ruling crosses that line. If the federal government passed a law that says companies with 50 employees or more have to provide certain health insurance to employees and a company doesn’t like it, their options should have been to pay the penalty for violating the law or shrink their company so the law wouldn’t apply to them, not getting an exception based on religious beliefs.

This week I read about a similar case – a pharmacy in Washington State wants to refuse on religious grounds to stock and dispense Plan B (the morning after pill) even though all pharmacies are mandated by state law to carry it.

Here’s my take on these situations – laws should be passed for the good of the general public. If you don’t like a law, don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to abide by it. If you’re a pharmacist who dislikes your state’s laws about what products you have to carry, get out of the business or move to a state that doesn’t have that requirement.

There are plenty of laws that I don’t like but I accept that I have to follow them or accept the penalty if I get caught breaking them. I can try to get the law changed, but until that happens, I’m stuck with them.

Having legally recognized exceptions written into laws is one thing, but giving people the ability to refuse to follow the law based on religious beliefs is a slippery slope. When I was an undergrad, I was furious to learn that a pharmacist at the student health center wasn’t filling prescriptions for the morning after pill because of her religious beliefs so students could only get that prescription filled when she wasn’t working. She should have been fired for that. What’s next – a clerk at a sex shop telling his boss that he’s ok with selling sex toys but he can’t sell porn because it violates his religion? Or a biblical literalist who works at a department store who claims she can’t ring up customers who buy garments made of more than one fabric?

If I had to claim a religion, I’d say it’s Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”). As a business owner, I get to handpick who I do business with, and I don’t work with clients who are dicks. But if there was a law that said I had to, I’d look for a way to change my business to get out of it or make it worth my while. However, if I was ever someone’s employee again, I would never get away with that. If I refused a direct order from my superior, claiming that dealing with dicks violated my religious beliefs, I’d expect to be fired.

(Mental note: If business owners and employees are allowed to violate or get exceptions to the law based on religious beliefs, I need to start documenting my sincerely held religious beliefs which are not affiliated with any official religion so I can use them to get my way when it suits me.)

Top 10 Bonus Skills from being a Gymnast

Although I was a gymnast for seventeen years, I haven’t done anything harder than a handstand without the assistance of a trampoline for at least the last five. Nevertheless, there are certain skills you develop as a gymnast that stay with you for life. Here are the top ten:

Beautiful Erika with a Sunset, used with permission

Beautiful Erika with a Sunset, used with permission

Beach Handstand 2008

I Try to do a Handstand every Place I Visit

  1. How to wash your hair with one hand because it hurts like hell to get shampoo in a rip.
  2. How to change leotards in a parking lot without committing indecent exposure because the line for the bathroom at the meet was too long, also how to pee without taking off your leotard.
  3. How to turn your hair into cement with the right combination of hair products where you can take the rubber band out of your hair and still have a ponytail, also how to cut tiny rubber bands out of your hair without cutting your hair along with it.
  4. How to shave your legs, arm pits, and bikini line in thirty seconds in a shower of any size
  5. How to pick up clothing, pencils, etc. with your toes.
  6. How to flush toilets and open doors with your feet – yay for flexibility!
  7. How to do read and write in the car without getting carsick – because the car ride to/from practice was your only time to get homework done.
  8. How to sleep and do homework while in the splits or otherwise bent in half.
  9. How to ride public transportation without having to hold on anything without losing your balance.
  10. How to eat a full meal before working out and not have any issues.

By far, the best skill that comes from being a gymnast is the ability to focus, compartmentalize, and stay determined. I’ve heard from several former gymnasts that being in this sport gave them the ability to work through physical and emotional pain and “go on with the show” when they’d rather curl up and cry. As my coach, Rocky, used to say, “It’s only hard.”

Once a gymnast, always a gymnast. It’s been over a decade since my last competition and I love that some people can tell I was gymnast by the way I walk and carry myself. Gymnastics is more than a sport; it’s a way of life.

How Could Anyone Not Love This Dog?

My baby girl doesn’t cry. And by “baby girl” I mean my basset hound Rosie. Yes, she howls when the phone rings and she’ll bark when she gets excited, but she rarely cries.

Rosie Bone

Sweet Rosie

Last week we were out for a walk and she walked through a patch of dirt and pebbles. She’s walked over this area many times before without any problems. Unbeknownst to us, a recent storm blew a bunch of dry stickers into the rocks and we didn’t realize it until she stepped in them. She didn’t make a sound, but picked up one of her back paws. It had at least five stickers in it. I removed them, and gently put her foot down on clear ground. I picked up each of paws and removed several stickers from each one. I pulled at least fifteen stickers out from her feet. She didn’t make a sound, not even when one of them drew blood. When her paws were sticker-free again, she looked up at me, turned around, and headed for home. She was done.

Rosie almost never cries when she’s in pain. She didn’t cry when she pulled a muscle in her leg. She didn’t cry when she had valley fever. She didn’t cry when she had tumors in her gums that had to be surgically removed. She didn’t cry when she got a bug bite between her toes that had swelled up bigger than a nickel. It makes me wonder what her life was like before I adopted her and if she learned not to cry because she was punished when she did or because no one cared.

I adopted Rosie from the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue a little over two years ago. She was four years old at the time. As the story was told to me, her first owner took good care of her. I have her AKC registration and her records that show she got a check-up every six months. Then something happen and he gave her away. Rosie ended up with someone who was neglectful for about six months. I don’t know all the details but I know by the time the Basset Rescue got her, one of her nails had grown so long it curled under her paw and was pushing into the pad of her foot. Her teeth were so bad she needed surgery.

Sleepy Rosie

Sleepy Rosie

How could anyone treat my baby girl so badly? How could her first owner never check on her? I can’t let her go to the kennel for more than a few days without checking on her. Rosie is one of the sweetest dogs you’ll ever meet. Even people who aren’t fond of dogs in general love her. All she wants is to be loved.

The other day I was getting Rosie’s dinner ready and I added a few bites of chicken to her kibble. She was sitting at my feet and I decided to see if she could catch a piece of chicken if I tossed it at her. I took a few steps back, got her attention, and gently lobbed a piece of chicken at her. Instead of trying to catch it, she cringed. It makes me sick to think that this reaction means that someone used to throw things at her.

I hope Rosie’s forgotten what her life used to be like.  I try not to think about what it used to be like, because it makes me sad and disgusted.  I just try to give her the best life I can from now on. Few things make me smile faster than seeing that tail wag.

Let’s Fix our State Bar – Vote in the BoG Election! Here’s Who Made My Short List.

Starting May 7th, Arizona lawyers in Maricopa County will get to vote for our representatives on the State Bar Board of Governors (BoG). Make sure you vote in this election – it matters!

Arizona State Capitol by Willem van Bergen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona State Capitol by Willem van Bergen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The BoG “oversees the policy making and operation” of the State Bar of Arizona – including whether our bar dues go up. In Maricopa County, we will be voting for the nine people who will represent us on the BoG. In the last full BoG election, only 2,500 of the 12,000 eligible lawyers in Maricopa County voted and the difference between who was/wasn’t elected came down on handful of votes – so your individual vote makes a difference.

Here’s what I know about the dues increase that was just passed:

  • It passed by only 1 vote. (As my lawyer friend put it, “We are only one Board member away from rationality.”)
  • The financial committee met the day before the vote and determined that the proposed increase would result in a $3.7 million cash surplus by 2019. What does the State Bar need with $3.7M?! And this money is not earmarked so who knows how they’re going to spend it.
  • The BoG has an executive committee made up of five board members and wields significant influence. They all voted in favor of the dues increase. It appears they agreed to vote as a united front, which makes me question their integrity. There is one guaranteed opening on the executive committee with Whitney Cunningham moving out of the presidency. There are other executive committee members who are up for re-election (Lisa Loo in Maricopa County and Alex Vakula in Yavapai County). If these two aren’t re-elected, a majority of the executive committee will change which will have an enormous impact on what the Bar does moving forward.

Thirty-three people are running for the nine BoG openings in Maricopa County. I read their profiles and made my list of potential votes based on the following criteria.

  1. Every candidate who gets my vote must be an incumbent who voted against the dues increase or spoke about fiscal responsibility, transparency, and keeping dues down. Finances are such a hot topic in the Bar right now. If a candidate didn’t mention money, I feared they would be too afraid to take a stand when it mattered. I need a BoG who will speak for me. Bonus if they mentioned keeping up with changes in technology.
  2. I eliminated any candidate who’s had something in their profile that raised a red flag for me.
  3. I took the resulting list and sent it to my fellow lawyers whose judgment I trust and who have been in the legal profession significantly longer than I have. I asked them to tell me if any of them violated the “No Jerks” rule and if they had any specific endorsements.

Here’s my short list of Maricopa County BoG candidates who might get my vote:

  • Chad Belville
  • Stephen Brower
  • Ted Campagnolo
  • David Derickson
  • Nick Dranias
  • Richard Erickson
  • Greg Gnepper
  • Isaac Hernandez
  • Melissa Ho
  • Steven Keist
  • Michael Kielsky
  • Clarence Matherson
  • Bert Moll
  • Christopher Raddatz
  • Jennifer Rebholz
  • Sam Saks
  • Geoffrey Trachtenberg

If you practice in Yavapai County, the choice is easy. Vote for Andre Carman, who is running against an incumbent that voted for the dues increase (while serving as the BoG’s secretary-treasurer).

Voting for the BoG will be online from May 7th until 5 p.m. on May 21st. Look for an email from the Bar with instructions. Please make sure you take a few minutes to vote and encourage other eligible lawyers to vote too. We have an opportunity to vote for people who are motivated to make significant changes in our Bar. Let’s vote in some people who will work for what we want.

The Record Reporter published the vote on the bar dues increase, including the list of how each BoG member voted.

For more information about how important this election is, please visit Sam Sak’s site, Moving the Bar Forward and Mo Hernandez’s site Transform the Bar.

Arizona Health Stats – The Good, Bad, & Disturbing

When I heard that the latest Arizona State Health Assessment was out, I had to poke around to see how my state’s doing. Most of it was bad; some of it was disturbing; but there were a few glimmers of hope in the mix.

In some areas, Arizona is doing better than the national average.

AZ Better than Nat'l Average

The fact that more than 1 in 4 people in Arizona is obese is disturbing, as is the fact that that makes us better than the national obesity rate. To put this statistic into context, Arizona has had 19% increase in the number of overweight and obese people since 1993 – the largest increase in the U.S.! The stats also show an increase in adult diabetes in Arizona from 7.5% in 2005 to 9.1% in 2010.

Thankfully not everything about Arizona’s health is bad. We’ve had a 29% decrease in teen pregnancy since 2007. I don’t care if it’s abstinence or birth control that made this happen, but good job kids for being responsible!

So how are we killing ourselves in Arizona? In 2010, cancer was the leading cause of death followed by heart disease. Accidents were the #4 cause of death overall (2,834), mostly due to poisoning/overdose (879), falls (762), and motor vehicle accidents (711); but there are always some weird accidental deaths:

  • Aircraft accidents = 16
  • Railroad accidents = 12
  • Hit by lightning = 1
  • Electrocuted = 4
  • Venomous snake or lizard = 1
  • Choked on food = 39
  • Choked on some other object = 57 (What are you putting in your mouths?)

This was scary – accidents were the leading cause of death for people under age 45 and the cause of disability for all age groups. (If you don’t have disability insurance, go get some!)

Suicide was the 8th leading cause of death (1,070), but the 5th leading cause for men – likely due to the fact that more men use firearms to commit suicide than women. Women were also more like than men to get routine check-ups (71.3% vs. 59.7% respectively); which hopefully is helping medical professionals identify and refer people who need mental health services.

I think the saddest statistic I read in the study was 20% of Arizonans reported that they have no social-emotional supports. That’s 1 in 5 people saying they have no one. That is beyond disturbing! In our digitally connected world, we don’t have to know our neighbors to have someone to talk to anymore; but on the flip side, it can lead to physical and social isolation.

I will say that Phoenix is not the easiest city to get to know new people, but if you put yourself out there and get involved (and there are tons of ways to do that), you’ll make friends.

How to Make Phoenix Safer for Pedestrians – Stop Being Stupid

I recently participated in a phone survey about pedestrian safety in Phoenix. As someone who regularly walks and jogs in my neighborhood, pedestrian safety is an everyday concern. According to the AZ DOT Crash Facts, there were 1,575 car-pedestrian accidents in Arizona in 2012 that resulted in 1,354 injuries and 131 deaths. I prefer not to be the next statistic.

In general, I feel like Phoenix is a fairly safe place to be a pedestrian, however, the survey questions had little to do with factors that contribute to risks to pedestrians. They asked whether the sidewalks were wide enough (yes), whether there’s adequate lighting (most of the time), if the walk signals at intersections are long enough (yes), and whether emergency vehicles respond to accidents swiftly enough (this has nothing to do with things that cause pedestrian accidents).

They survey person didn’t ask about the two main factors that I think contribute to car-pedestrian accidents: stupid pedestrians and stupid drivers.

jaywalking by ^ Missi ^ from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

jaywalking by ^ Missi ^ from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Stupid Pedestrians
One of the biggest risks to pedestrian safety I see every day is jaywalking. I’m not talking about people walking their dogs in the neighborhood and crossing in the middle of the block. I’m talking about people crossing 6-lane streets where the speed limit is 40 mph during peak driving times. I live near such a street and I see this all the time, even with a crosswalk located a few hundred feet away and an underpass available.

The worst is when I see a parent jaywalking with their kids. I’ve seen jaywalking parents in the suicide lane pushing a baby stroller with one hand and their other hand is holding the hand of their toddler. It’s one thing to be cavalier about your own safety, but don’t put your kids at risk. It’s because of this that my first question when I hear about a car-pedestrian accident is whether the person was jaywalking.

And another thing, if you walk when it’s dark out, especially in neighborhoods that don’t have that many street lights, please wear something that makes you more visible. When I go jogging before sunrise, I wear a reflective belt and sometimes a headlamp. You can’t expect people not to hit you if you can’t be seen.

Stop Hammertime by Rich Anderson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Stop Hammertime by Rich Anderson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Stupid Drivers
The number one threat to my safety as a pedestrian is drivers making right-hand turns at intersections – especially ones that have a traffic signal. A lot of them don’t stop behind the crosswalk and they don’t look for pedestrians trying to cross the street. I’ve been almost hit twice in one trip across an intersection. I had the walk signal and cars at both corners weren’t paying attention to the fact that I was there. I know I’m small but I’m not invisible.

I also worry about walking my dog Rosie in crosswalks. I made the mistake of not staying right by her side once and a car starting turning after I was out of his way but she wasn’t. That scared the crap out of me.

The other set of stupid drivers are the ones who don’t know how to stop at stop signs. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have the white line on the ground next to the stop sign and so when drivers stop at the stop sign, the front of their car is about 4 feet in front of the stop sign, which puts them right in the middle of where pedestrians walk when they cross the street. This is less of an issue when I’m walking but it’s big issue when I’m running. I like it when drivers don’t plow into me during morning exercise. It’s because of these people that I got my reflective belt.

I agree that pedestrian safety is an issue in Phoenix that could be easily improved, but it’s less of a city issue and more of a stupid people problem. One of the things I frequently say when I cross the street is, “Thank you for not hitting me.” It sounds funny, but given the number of close calls I’ve had, it’s true.

Wheaton’s Law is my Religion If Brewer Signs SB 1062

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1062/HB 2153 last week. They call it a law to protect your right to “exercise your religion” but what it really does is give businesses the ability not to do business with someone if it violates their “religious beliefs.” What it does is give businesses the ability not to do business with members of the LGBT community.

My Wheaton's Law T-Shirt

My Wheaton’s Law T-Shirt

This law is fucked up on a lot of levels. While so many states and cities are legalizing same-sex marriage and updating anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, Arizona is moving backwards and trying to legalize segregation. It’s frustrating that the majority of the Arizonans oppose this proposed law, including several business organizations, but an influential minority was able to push it through both houses.

Here’s what’s really fucked up about this law – your “religious beliefs” don’t have to be affiliated with any officially recognized religion;” they only have to be your sincerely held religious beliefs.

I’m pretty agnostic but I do have some firmly held beliefs that are as dear to me as some religions are to others. One of those beliefs is Wheaton’s Law – “Don’t be a dick.” This rule was created by actor-author-gamer Wil Wheaton to encourage good sportsmanship during online gaming, and it has spread to and been adopted in everyday life. If you want your own Wheaton’s Law t-shirt, it’s available online.

Sign at Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria

Sign at Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria

And yes, just because Wheaton’s Law isn’t affiliated with any official religion or culture that requires some type of worship practice, it doesn’t mean it can be a religious belief. According to Dictionary.com, a religion is merely, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Note that superhuman agency and ritual observances are not required; therefore, Wheaton’s Law can be a religious belief.

Open to everyoneSo if Governor Brewer signs this bill into law, it will give me, and anyone else who considers Wheaton’s Law to be part of their religion, the ability to refuse to do business with anyone who acts like a dick. This will include any members of Arizona Senate and House of Representatives who voted in favor of this discriminatory law. I wonder how fast they would change their stance on this law if suddenly their grocery store, gas station, salon, landscapers, golf course, gym, neighborhood bar, and the private school where they send their kids refused to do business with them. (Hat tip to Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria for posting a sign that says they refuse to do business with Arizona Legislators after this bill passed.)

Some groups, like One Community, are taking the high road and saying that all are welcome to do business with them and encouraging others to do the same. And good for them – I’m too pissed off to be the bigger man on this one.

Please contact Governor Brewer’s office and tell her to veto this hellaciously discriminatory bill. You can call her at 602-542-4331 or 520-628-6580. You can also sign the petition about SB 1062 on Change.org.

[Note: I sent Wil Wheaton an email about claiming Wheaton’s Law as a religious belief if SB 1062 is signed. He didn’t respond so I interpreted that to mean that he didn’t object – at least not enough to tell me about it. I mean no disrespect to Wil Wheaton or Wheaton’s Law with this post.]

Boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics & its Sponsors – Who’s Not Getting my Business

A few months ago I shared my outrage about the International Olympic Committee’s blatant (and cowardly) refusal to oppose Russia’s anti-gay laws and how none of the sponsors have spoken out against the bigoted laws. I love the Olympics but I’m boycotting the Games, so for the duration of the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Paralympics, I will not spend money on the Olympic  sponsors’ products whenever possible.

Here’s who won’t be getting my business during the Games:

Olympic Rings Vancouver by adrian8_8 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Olympic Rings Vancouver by adrian8_8 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Proctor & Gamble
This includes Olay moisturizer, Cover Girl cosmetics, Ivory soap, Pantene shampoo, Tampax tampons, Bounty paper towels, Charmin toilet paper, Mr. Clean magic eraser, Dawn dish soap, Cascade dishwasher soap, Tide laundry soap, Bounce dryer sheets, Febreze, Swiffer cloths, Duracell batteries, Venus razor blades, Oral-B toothbrushes, and Vicks Nyquil.

Coca-Cola
This includes Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Dasani water, Evian water, Fresca, Dr. Pepper, Powerade, Sprite, Monster Energy drinks, and Odwalla juice.

Samsung

Panasonic

McDonald’s

GE

Omega

Dow

Atos

Visa
This will be the hardest one because I use my credit card for almost every purchase. I’ll have to switch to cash unless it’s a situation where I have to use my card.

If any of these products are already in my home, using them is fair game. They’ve already gotten my money so not using them when they’ve already made their profit off me doesn’t hurt them. They just won’t be getting any new business from me during the Games.

I’m an advocate of putting your money where your mouth is. If you don’t approve of what a company is doing, don’t give them your business. Any of the above companies can redeem themselves and get off my shit list by openly opposing Russia’s anti-gay laws and/or plastering their ads at the Sochi Olympic Games with rainbows and same-sex couples.

Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Makes Sense (and I Hate Pot)

As of January 1, 2014, any person over age 21 can legally buy marijuana in Colorado from a licensed dispensary. It’s just like buying liquor at a liquor store. Looking at what Colorado is doing, I’m starting to think that this may be the right move for all states.

Marijuana by warrantedarrest from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Marijuana by warrantedarrest from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

From my observations, the medical marijuana system is corrupt. I believe that marijuana has positive benefits for certain patients; however when a state legalizes medicinal marijuana it seems like everyone who wants a marijuana card figures out which doctor to visit and what magic words they need to say to get a card. Then they use it as an excuse to be legally wasted all the time and possibly illegally share their legally obtained pot with others.

If we legalize pot, it will be distributed through legal channels and regulated to ensure that it’s safe. And the government can tax the shit out of it like they do cigarettes and with any luck that money will go to some good use. Hopefully this will reduce the demand for pot on the street and all the crime that goes along with the drug dealing will decrease. There will always be a black market for pot, just like there are still guys who illegally make moonshine; but I hope more people would choose to buy it from a licensed store if they choose to partake.

And let me make one thing clear – I am not a proponent for the use of marijuana in general. I hate the way it smells. I hate the way people act when they’re wasted. I chose not to be around most people when they’re drunk or high. If I ever live somewhere where marijuana is legal, I won’t allow it in my home. Yes, I am the anti-pothead who is saying it’s better to legalize it for all adults than to legalize medicinal marijuana.

Marijuana Joint by Torben Bjorn Hansen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Marijuana Joint by Torben Bjorn Hansen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Don’t tell me that marijuana should be illegal because it’s bad for you. There are a lot of things that are bad for us that are perfectly legal – like smoking cigarettes, drinking excessively, and being overweight. If we made everything that’s unhealthy illegal, we’d all be in jail.

Here is my concern for states that are considering legalizing marijuana – you have to figure out how this will work with the DUI laws. Driving while impaired by any amount of any substance is illegal in Arizona. I hope there are drug tests that are sensitive enough to tell when a person is likely currently impaired by pot. The drug test for marijuana for employment can show if you’ve used it in the last 30 days. I don’t want people getting DUIs when they haven’t used in a week but today they’re just a bad driver. Colorado’s law set a limit for how much THC you can have in your blood. If you go over that limit, the presumption is that you’re too impaired to drive.

Medical marijuana is legal in Arizona but some people are pushing for an amendment to the state constitution that would make using marijuana legal for adults and regulate its distribution.

What do you think – should marijuana be legalized? If so, what are your concerns? If you’ve been to Colorado and you’ve legally purchased pot, I’d love it if you’d share your experience in the comments below too.

Oppose the Proposed Arizona Bar Dues Increase

I was frustrated and angry to learn that the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors is considering raising our bar dues starting in 2015. Our dues would go up $25/year for four years. The State Bar gives new attorneys lower dues for their first two years of practice so this will be the first year I pay the full $460 for my annual bar dues. I don’t want them go to up to $560.

Arizona Grunge Flag by Free Grunge Textures from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona Grunge Flag by Free Grunge Textures from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The legal world is a self-regulating profession so I’m not frustrated with the State Bar; I’m frustrated with our State Bar. Yes, they regulate us, but they regulate us as we’ve told them to. So if I’m unhappy with the way they’re running the show, it’s my obligation to openly oppose it. I’m pleased that some members of the Board, namely Sam Saks, Melissa Ho, and Geoff Trachtenberg, are publicly opposing the increase. And for anyone who is unfamiliar with the Arizona Bar, it’s a mandatory pay-to-play state. You can’t be an Arizona attorney without being a member of the State Bar and our bar dues are already among the highest in the country.

My source at the State Bar told me there are 17,680 active attorneys in the Bar. Let’s say 17,000 of them have to pay full bar dues because they’ve been in practice for over two years. These 17,000 will pay $7.82 million in bar dues in 2014. If the proposed increase is accepted, these 17,000 attorneys will pay $9.52 million in bar dues in 2018. I would want to see what will cost $1.7 million more than what it costs now.

The fact that the Board of Governors is considering increasing our dues means that it’s time to take a closer look at how our money is currently being spent. I want to see how much money is coming in and where it’s being spent. I don’t mind paying for services that are necessary (like lawyer regulation, LOMAP, and the ethics hotline), that we’ve collectively agreed we should pay for, and occasional increases due to inflation. I don’t want to pay for things that don’t enhance the profession.

For example, I recently received my 2014 Arizona Bar Directory in the mail. How many people use the paper printing of the bar directory?  We have an online database. How much did we pay to print and ship these phonebooks? Unless this is somehow a moneymaker, the paper directory should only be printed for those who order and pay for it.

Maricopa County Court House by Ms. Phoenix from Flickr (Creative Common License)

Maricopa County Court House by Ms. Phoenix from Flickr (Creative Common License)

I wanted to gauge how my fellow attorneys felt about this issue so I sent a survey to my fellow Arizona legal eagles who graduated in or after 2007. As of this post, I’ve received 24 responses, mostly from the class of 2011. Twenty-one respondents said they took out loans to pay for law school (most of them over $100K) and all of them are still paying them off (up to $1,600/month). To ask them to pay $560/year just to be able to keep being attorneys, is asking a lot.

For anyone who wants to dismiss this problem by saying that attorneys don’t pay for their bar dues, their firms do; over half of the respondents reported that they were responsible for their bar dues, either paying directly out of pocket or because they were the owner of their firm so any business expenses can cut into their take-home pay. Even when the firm pays its attorneys’ bar dues, every dollar they spend on dues is a dollar they can’t put towards business development, pro bono work, and community involvement.

I gave the respondents a chance to share their thoughts about the proposed increase. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I would want to know what I’m getting with the extra money. The dues are already crazy high compared to most other states and I don’t understand why.”

“One would think that with technology to handle much of what used to be paperwork for bar applications, testing (we do not have to create our own exam any longer), etc., costs would go down, not up. These costs ultimately get passed onto the public in higher fees and legal representation is already prohibitively expensive for most people.”

“Bar dues are effectively a tax on attorneys, which we have only minimal representation on due to the lack of transparency of the bar association. I feel that many of the bar’s programs and expenditures are of little value and should be funded from non-mandatory sources. If the legal community really feels those programs are needed, people will contribute voluntarily to support them.”

For anyone who wants to have their voice heard, this proposal will be considered by the Board of Governors on Thursday, December 12th, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, December 13th, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Arizona State Bar office in Phoenix. Any member of the Bar can attend the board meeting (I’ll be there), and you can contact the Bar if you wish to speak on this issue. The vote is expected to occur on Friday.