April 3, 2019 – Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly was in private practice before he joined the bench in 2016. Now, he understands the importance of access to justice as both advocate for individuals and as a member of the judiciary for the people.
Justice Kelly said the law is complex, so complex that sometimes when the court addresses what the law requires of an individual, it concludes the statute is ambiguous.
“What that means is that reasonably intelligent and informed individuals can come to different conclusions on what the law requires,” said Justice Kelly.
“And if members of the bench can come to different conclusions, I cannot imagine how difficult it can be for an individual who faces the complexity of the law without anyone there to help, without a legal background and without anyone to explain what the law requires or how they might navigate that thicket,” Justice Kelly continued.
Justice Kelly gave opening remarks last month at the 2019 Equal Justice Conference, a biennial event that is organized and sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Legal Assistance Committee. Marquette University Law School partnered to host the event.
The conference highlights ongoing challenges on access to justice, the public’s ability to protect their rights in the court system. But it also spotlights the good work that legal organizations within Wisconsin are doing to improve access to justice, especially for low-income populations. Justice Kelly said these conversations are important.
He noted his own pro bono work, before he joined the supreme court. A pro se litigant was taking his case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and Kelly joined the effort.
“On one level, it gave me another opportunity to argue before the high court, but on another level, it is about helping a person who finds themselves in need,” he said.
Justice Kelly said providing that pro bono assistance “is part of what it means to be a member of the bar, to be a part of a profession that has as its chief goal the preservation of justice and the rights and liberties of the people of the state.”
“Now that I am on the bench, I see it from a different perspective, and think I have a more complete view of the importance of these issues,” he said.
“Now, I see from the perspective of the need of the court to have good representation from both sides, to protect the integrity and the development of the law, and to insure the institution of the law remains strong and firm,” Justice Kelly said.
When there is a mismatch between the parties in their ability to explain their positions from a legal perspective, Kelly said, the result can be less than complete justice.
“So, we need to have that competent representation on both sides for the sake of the institution of the court and for the sake of the institution of the law,” he said.
“If we don’t have that, both can suffer and the consequences of that suffering is not limited to the bench or the bar,” he said.
“We become a society in which people cannot adequately figure out what the law requires of them. That decreases the amount of freedom and liberty that we enjoy.”