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  • Rotunda Report
    February 06, 2023

    Wisconsin's Biennial Budget Must Address the Justice System Crisis

    Overworked and understaffed, Wisconsin's criminal justice system is facing a crisis that has been long in the making. Legislators must address it in the upcoming biennial budget.

    Devin Martin

    Statue of Justice with Sunburst

    Feb. 6, 2023 – The recent and unexpected resignation of Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg has drawn plenty of attention in the media, highlighting the breaking point facing Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.

    This issue has been long in the making. Elected District Attorney vacancies are now occurring with alarming frequency, and District Attorney offices across the state are experiencing staff shortages as salaries have not kept pace with the employment market. The same issues are plaguing State Public Defenders (SPD). State Public Defender Kelli Thompson has indicated that her agency is down almost 20% of their typical attorney employees, particularly in rural counties where the SPD struggles to fill vacancies.

    The State Bar of Wisconsin is working hard to communicate the depth and urgency of this crisis to policy makers. In January, letters were sent to Governor Evers and all Wisconsin legislators, encouraging them to work together to address these challenges. One of the most immediate solutions is to honor agency requests from District Attorney’s offices, the SPD, the Department of Justice, and courts, increasing their budgets appropriately.

    The State Bar is also working to communicate these challenges to the public. A Presidential statement was published on WisPolitics and mentioned on WisEye’s Rewind: Week in Review program and in stories on WPR and NPR. Past President Cheryl Daniels was interviewed on the topic on Channel 3000’s For the Record, and President Margaret Hickey will be quoted in upcoming articles and radio spots.

    To sum, the staffing crisis in District Attorney and State Public Defender’s offices, along with private attorneys that take assigned counsel cases, is beyond its breaking point. It is time for our elected state leaders to be criminal justice partners in fixing this funding emergency without delay.

    To do this, we need your help: raise your voice in support of addressing this funding crisis.

    What You Can Do: State Bar of Wisconsin Advocacy Network

    Advocacy Network

    The State Bar has made it quick and easy for you to send your own message to legislators on this topic using our Advocacy Network. Simply put in your address to be matched with your state lawmakers and edit the suggested message to personalize it to suit your own opinions. It is vitally important that the Governor and legislature hear your voice and that of your colleagues in the legal profession on this critical matter, so please take a moment to share your thoughts.

    Don't forget to subscribe to the Rotunda Report and follow us on Twitter to stay informed and get involved in the legislative process.

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