February 15, 2002 Regular News Bar prohibited from taking sales tax stand Bar prohibited from taking sales tax stand The Florida Bar cannot, under existing U.S. and Florida Supreme Court rulings, lobby the legislature on proposed sales taxes on services, including legal fees.Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, who represents the Bar when it is sued and advises it on constitutional issues, has rendered that opinion in response to a question from Bar President Terry Russell. Russell had been asked by Senate President John McKay, R-Tampa, who is pushing a tax reform measure, for the Bar’s position on services taxes.Richard’s January 14 letter was presented to the Board of Governors at its February 1 meeting in Tampa, and the board took no action on it.Richard said the Bar could offer technical assistance on a services tax, such as advising whether the tax constitutionally could apply to criminal defense fees.The Bar’s ability to lobby on political issues, Richard wrote, is defined in two rulings, both of which came after the 1987 battle over the short-lived services tax. The cases are Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), and The Florida Bar Re: Schwarz, 552 So.2d 1094 (Fla. 1989).“In Keller, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the use of compulsory bar dues for political advocacy except with respect to improvement of the administration of justice,” Richard said.The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has further ruled that issues in that category “include regulation of attorneys, budget appropriations for the judiciary and legal aid, proposed changes in litigation procedures, regulations of attorneys’ client trust accounts, and law school and bar admission standards,” the letter said.“In Schwarz, the Florida Supreme Court restricted the authority of The Florida Bar to engage in any political advocacy whatsoever, regardless of whether or not it involved the use of compulsory dues” unless five conditions were met, Richard noted. Those five conditions are: matters concerning the regulation and discipline of attorneys; matters relating to the functioning and efficiency of the courts; increasing the availability of legal services; regulation of attorneys’ trust accounts; and issues affecting the education, ethics, competence, regulation, and integrity of the legal profession.The court did say, Richard noted, the Bar could lobby on additional issues if they met all parts of a three-pronged test:• “The issue be recognized as being of great public importance.”• “That lawyers are especially suited by their training and experience to evaluate and explain the issue.”• “The subject matter affects the rights of those likely to come into contact with the judicial system.”Richard said the Florida Supreme Court held in The Florida Bar Re: Frankel, 581 So.2d 1294 (Fla. 1991), that the Bar could not lobby on some children-related issues because they did not meet those tests.“In the absence of persuasive evidence that the imposition of sales tax would place otherwise affordable legal services beyond the reach of a significant number of Floridians, I think it is unlikely that the court would conclude that the sales tax issue falls within the presumptively permissible list,” Richard said.He also said the services tax failed to meet the second criteria of the three-part test for additional issues, even though lawyers might have some special expertise on specific tax issues.“[T]he threshold question of whether there should be a tax on legal services is essentially a political and policy question on which lawyers are not ‘especially suited by their training and experience to evaluate and explain the issue,’” he said.In his letter, Richard noted he has been retained by the Florida Senate, which is pushing the constitutional amendment to lower the sales tax rate at the same time expanding it to many services now exempted in state law. Neither the Senate nor the Bar had a problem with Barry giving the Bar an opinion on the issue, he said.A few days after Richard submitted his letter to the Bar, the Senate released a list of possibly taxed services and how much would be raised. At the top of the list was legal services, expected to add more than $300 million annually to state coffers.
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HAMPDEN — Eastern Maine Board No. 111 of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials is offering a prospective officials class for any individuals, 18 years of age or older, who are interested in becoming certified basketball officials.The class will be held at Reed’s Brook Middle School, Room 164, in Hampden on Sundays and Wednesdays from 6-8:30 p.m. starting Sept. 27.Individuals living in Hancock, Knox, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Waldo counties are eligible to take this class.There will be seven classes, culminating with a written test on Nov. 2. A fee is required that covers all books, materials and testing.This is placeholder textThis is placeholder textFor more information, contact Dave Ames, Board No. 111 interpreter, at 789-5118 or by email at email@example.com.