D.A. Wins Dispute Over State Bar Dues

Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury has won a legal battle to stop the State Bar of California from funding political activities with membership dues paid by county prosecutors.

A panel of the state Court of Appeal based in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that since Ventura County pays the annual bar dues for its 82 prosecutors, that portion of the dues used for political activities constitutes a "wholly inappropriate encroachment by government into the political arena, and thus [is] a waste of public funds."

The court ruling could affect as many as 15,000 public attorneys throughout California, if their dues are paid with taxpayer funds.

Bradbury's dispute with the bar dates back to 1991, when he refused to pay the so-called voluntary portion of the dues for all the attorneys in his office.

At the time, the bar claimed that it used $5 of the $474 dues for political purposes, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin G. DeNoce said. The bar now says it uses only $1 from each attorney's dues to fund political activities.

DeNoce said bar officials refused to allow Bradbury to withhold the voluntary portion of the dues for his entire office, saying each attorney had to sign a letter protesting payment of the funds. The appeals court ruled that Bradbury could make the decision for the entire office.

DeNoce said his office was not taking issue with the bar's political agenda. The office acted solely on the principle that tax money should not be used for non-governmental purposes, he said.

"It's just like if I wanted to donate county money to a charity," DeNoce said. "I can't do that. It's really no different." In a separate lawsuit filed in federal court, Bradbury and several others are challenging the bar's claims of how much it spends on political activities.

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