Vol. 78, No. 8, August
Letters to the editor: The Wisconsin Lawyer publishes
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Defective System Led to
In the past 20 years, the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF)
has poured nearly one-half million dollars into the ACLU for programs
and lawsuits only arguably related to "legal services for the
poor," freeing up a like amount for the ACLU to devote to lawsuits
and politics undeniably objectionable to many. With the Wisconsin
Supreme Court's recent requirement that attorneys make a mandated WisTAF
charitable contribution or lose their ability to practice law, each
attorney funds lawsuits and programs with which they may disagree and
which may well be in conflict with the needs of their clients.
WisTAF - now with two full-time employees and a rented office - and
the assessment are the result of a defective system. The court's growing
authoritarian administration is built without any checks and balances,
since executive, legislative, and judicial functions reside with one
small group of bureaucrats: our virtually unaccountable justices. The
premise for the court's expanding regulatory role is built on one sandy
foundation upon another. For example, see Justice Prosser's dissent to
the WisTAF assessment, which nicely counters the speciousness of the
court's action. There is no other agency in this state suffused with so
little democracy as is the court system.
While the State Bar is ostensibly having counsel review the
legality of the assessment, at the same time, according to the Bar's
public affairs officer, the Bar has "historically supported the
[court's] inherent supervisory power over the practice of law."
(The lackeyed nature of the Bar was illustrated when the chief justice
prepared to swear in the new Bar president, at which time she pointed
out the one portion of the oath where the president swears to aid the
court and noted that all the people she has sworn in have upheld that
promise.) There is, therefore, no legislative or political agenda by the
Bar to address not only the assessment, but the abusive power of the
court. Never mind that the majority of members who contacted the Bar
regarding the assessment were opposed to it.
The inability of the Bar to effectively advocate for its members is
ensured by the requirement that the Bar be mandatory. By its nature a
mandatory bar has the effect of diluting dissent and rendering the bar
impotent. Some of our justices must be laughing, well, all the way to
the courthouse. Of course the Bar - with its dozens of full-time
employees and fine building - has no impetus to rock the boat and thus
actually come out swinging for those bankrolling it.
WisTAF, despite its noble sentiments, is unworkable and should be
terminated. The assessment itself is an illustration of an undemocratic
structure and the inherent uselessness of a mandatory bar. The entire
structure needs to be challenged and reformed.
Response: I would like to offer
clarification of several points that Mr. Schlei makes.
Over the course of the past 17 years, the Wisconsin Trust Account
Foundation granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin
Foundation (ACLU/WIF) a little less than $450,000, in amounts ranging
from $1,000 to $55,000. These funds supported the ACLU/WIF's Poverty,
Race and Civil Liberties program, which provides statewide legal
services to indigent Wisconsin residents when their civil liberties or
civil rights are in jeopardy. As with all of our grantees, WisTAF
monitored the success of the ACLU/WIF's program through written
reporting and on-site visits. During our granting relationship with the
agency, WisTAF found the ACLU/WIF used its grants appropriately and
provided significant specialized services to low-income Wisconsin
residents whose civil liberties or civil rights were violated and who
otherwise would have had no recourse available to them.
WisTAF has, until recently, operated with three staff people, and
it was housed at the State Bar of Wisconsin until it moved into the new
Bar Center in 1999. We moved into our own office at that time, saving
more than 20 percent in overhead costs. In June 2005, we reorganized and
reduced our staff to two people, further reducing our administrative
costs. The WisTAF Board is committed to ensuring that at least 90 cents
of every dollar contributed to the agency goes to those who need it most
- the people of Wisconsin who share our common right to justice, but who
do not have the economic resources to obtain it.
De Ette Tomlinson, Executive Director
Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation Inc.