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Carnell Ready to Step Up as Bar Association President

Kent I. Carnell currently serves as chair of the State Bar board of governors, a position he sees as a perfect stepping stone up to the role of State Bar president-elect.

In a recent interview, Carnell†discussed the state Supreme Court's decision to assess every lawyer $50 to help pay for legal services to† the poor -- saying this is "the type of problem not just for lawyers to solve, it is a societal problem."

He's also opposed to a push to go to a voluntary bar, saying it would seriously cut services necessary for solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers who canít afford to hire the consultants necessary to maintain their businesses.

Carnell insists other State Bar services could also be hurt by establishing a voluntary bar.

"There is a full-time ethics counsel to answer questions, and a program that helps lawyers who have issues with mental health, drugs or alcohol. You make the bar too small, and you canít afford to give services to its members, and these are important services," said Carnell.

On the political front, he says the stateís largest business lobby is hurting members of the State
Bar by presenting a negative image of trial lawyers to advance a political agenda on malpractice caps. And it's not just WMC, according to Carnell, adding that politicians are also hurting attorneys by pushing "urban legends" and inaccurate representations that hurt the image of† lawyers in Wisconsin.

WisPolitics reporter Alec Loftus recently interviewed Carnell in the second of two WisPolitics interviews with candidates in the race for 2006 State Bar president-elect. A previous interview with Thomas J. Basting Sr. was featured at WisPolitics.com and may be accessed via the link below. Both candidates are from Madison -- Basting with Brennan, Steil & Basting and Carnell with Lawton & Cates.

Loftus: You currently serve chair of the state bar board of governors. What made you seek the position of state bar president?

Carnell: Well, for one itís a nomination. I served on the board for four years, last year they elected me to be chair for this year and the board of governors established a nominating committee to nominate a candidate.I accepted their nomination to run

Loftus: Tell me a little bit about your duties as chair of the board.

Carnell: My main duty is to run the board of governorsí meetings, there is meeting about every other month...there is roughly 45 people that are on the board to deal with the various issues. Also along with the president I would set the agenda of the boardÖIn the meantime, if there are issues that come up, or if we need a person at a meeting representing the bar, sometimes I do that as chair also.

Loftus: If you were elected as president would you devote full time or part time to that job?

Carnell: It would be part time, I am a practicing trial lawyer and even at this point I have trials scheduled throughout the year, and I still have an active business.From what I understand, past presidents have spent 40 to 50 percent of their time on bar activities and they would continue to practice whatever law they are doing. So I would probably follow the same thing, just as they have in the past.

Loftus: I understand one of the top issues facing state bar associations nationwide right now is the provision of civil legal services to the poor, could you explain that provision?

Carnell: As a general rule, the fees to get into certain court proceedings have increased.Lawyers expenses have also increased, so the problem is in many areas there are too many people that canít afford to hire a lawyer to get into the court system. Criminal law is obviously one that is a little different problem because our constitution requires them to have lawyers. The issue there is more, do they qualify for the state supported public defenders office -- and those rates have not changed over 15 years -- so many do not (qualify), otherwise counties have to pay. That is a problem handled a little bit differently. The civil legal service areas where you are seeing problems are especially in family law and small claims court -- other people with problems that canít afford lawyers that should have lawyers. It also plugs up our court system when people appear without lawyers because judges have to make sure their rights are protected. They donít know the right things to file or how to deal with issues, so it take more time and is more difficult for our system. Itís a nationwide problem and certainly a problem in this state that people have been looking at and trying to address.

Loftus: What is your stance on the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision requiring all active bar members to pay a $50†fee help civil legal services to the poor?

Carnell: I have to be careful with that issue because it is an active issue before the board of governorsÖThe board of governorsí position when that was going before the Supreme Court did not support imposing a $50 fee on lawyers. The court did make that decisionÖAfterward the board established a committee called the access to justice committee, which is studying the whole problem of providing legal services to the poor. ...I expect to come up with some hopefully innovative and new solutions to deal with the problem. That being said, it is the type of problem not just for lawyers to solve, it is a societal problem.

Loftus: I believe the state Barís current president elect (Madison attorney Steve) Levine put forth a proposal that changes the barís organization from voluntary to mandatory. Are you opposed to that idea?

Carnell: Yes, for a couple of reasons. That decision could be only made by the Supreme Court. I would be surprised if the Supreme Court would want to make that decisionÖa mandatory bar provides a lot of services to lawyers. If you go to a voluntary bar, it would be smaller, there would be less money available, and you would be less able to provideservices to lawyers.Business and management services are especially important for solo practitioners, small firm lawyers who canít afford to hire the consultants necessary to give them this type of advice and assistance. Members of the bar can get assistance without charge in running their businessesÖThere is also full time ethics counsel to answer questions, and a program that helps lawyers who have issues with mental health,drugs or alcohol -- to help them deal with those problems. You make the bar too small and you canít afford to give services to its members, and these are important services.

Loftus: Moving on to some more political issues right now, do you believe WMC (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce)†is hurting members of the state bar by presenting a negative image of trial lawyers to advance their political agenda on malpractice caps.

Carnell: Yes I assume they are hurting the image of lawyers and in my opinion a number of things they say are distorted and not accurate.

Loftus: Why do you think there is such a negative image of trial lawyers in the public eye? It seem like when these individuals try to run for public office, their opponents are always using it against them as a negative. One of the examples was Matt Flynn, when he ran for congress in Milwaukee. Then there was the democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards who was sort of branded as a trial lawyer.

Carnell: It has happened because a lot of politicians raise that as a negative, and because it has been said so often they have created a negative image by saying it. The problem is that most politicians from the very top, down to lower level politicians, say things that are inaccurate and if you really test what they are saying it is not backed up by statistics, it is not backed up by fact. A lot of stories are just urban legends that are not true, but they have done a very successful job of saying things and creating a negative image and unfortunately for the most part is isnít true.

Loftus: Now there are some similarities between you and your opponent (Thomas Basting Sr.), you are both litigators, could you tell me a couple of the differences between the two of you?

Carnell: Number one, I have very much respect for Tom and his abilities and the things he has done. I have know him, I have tried cases against him and I have the utmost respect for Tom. I think the difference is that Iíve been on the board of governorís going on five years and I am chair of the board. I understand how the board works and I understand the issues facing the bar because I have been dealing with them for four-and-a-half years. Iíve developed a good idea of the issues and problems facing members all over the state. And Iíve developed an understanding by listening to them. Because of the rapport I developed, I have the ability to lead the bar and lead the board in a direction that is good for all the lawyers in our state and even those out-of-state, and also the public in our state.


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