FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Madison, WI –The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission endorses Chief Justice Abrahamson’s call to restore civil legal services funding in the biennial state budget.
In her March 21 testimony to the Joint Finance Committee on behalf of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said, “People have a right to represent themselves but I am concerned for indigent individuals who find themselves in court without counsel in high stakes cases. The result is that individuals in our communities, without legal assistance, struggle to stay in their homes, to keep their children, to get government benefits, or to protect themselves from abusers.”
Veterans, seniors, and domestic violence victims are among the thousands of Wisconsinites who are unable to obtain meaningful access to justice without these valuable programs. As Chief Justice Abrahamson pointed out, the benefits reach from the courtroom to the community.
For more information contact Attorney Andrea Gage, public relations coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org agage wisbar wisbar agage org, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.
“The legal system is designed to operate with lawyers. Growing numbers of self-represented litigants cause court delays that impose difficulties on opposing parties and the court system,” said Abrahamson. “We join with others to support state funding to assist indigent self-represented persons in meeting their legal needs. Increased spending on civil legal services may prevent unwarranted foreclosures or evictions, avoid foster care placements, help people get access to government benefits, and ease court delays. Spending on civil legal services can provide real economic benefits for the state.”
The elimination of state funding for civil legal services to the indigent in 2011 and the proposed cuts to the court system in the current budget will only cause Wisconsin to fall further behind its peers. Other Midwestern states budget an average of $7.6 million per year for civil legal services to the indigent. Wisconsin is one of only four states in the country that provides no funding for civil legal services for the poor.
“The recent economic crisis has forced more Wisconsin residents into situations where help resolving civil legal problems can make a critical difference to their lives. Many never considered themselves low income before they lost a job, faced foreclosure or needed to restructure their debts. More children, seniors and abuse victims need protection and stability,” said Commission President Gregg Moore. “The call to restore state funding for civil legal services to the indigent is a welcome one.”
Other stakeholders are contributing to help close the justice gap that the State Bar of Wisconsin helped quantify in its landmark 2007 study on the civil legal needs of low and moderate-income Wisconsin residents.
· The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a unanimous order creating the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission.
· Wisconsin lawyers, judges and justices pay $50 annually into a fund to provide more than $800,000 in support for civil legal services to the poor.
· Wisconsin lawyers donate at least 40,000 pro bono hours in free legal service to the poor every year – with a market value of $6 million.
· Lawyers, judges, law firms and businesses contribute $300,000 annually to the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund.
· Congress also provides vital support for civil legal services through its appropriations that help Wisconsin’s two Legal Services Corporation grantees.