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    Access to Justice Commission Holds Public Hearings on Challenges Facing Low-income Residents

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    Access to Justice Commission Holds Public Hearings on Challenges Facing Low-income Residents

    Access to Justice Commission Public Hearing

    Attorney Howard Bichler (left), Judge Margaret Vergeront, and Fr. Bill Ribbens attend the hearing in Green Bay on July 24.

    July 30, 2012 – The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission is continuing its series of public hearings to gather public input on the challenges facing low-income Wisconsin residents statewide and how residents respond when they need legal help with critical civil legal problems.

    “A lot has changed since the State Bar’s 2007 Bridging the Justice Gap report," says Jeff Brown, staff coordinator for the commission. "Tomorrow’s hearing in Eau Claire is one more step towards gathering updated information about the unmet civil legal needs in Wisconsin. Speakers at the July 24 hearing in Green Bay provided compelling testimony about the impact of funding cuts and service reductions on low-income clients in the Green Bay and Fox Valley areas."

    Karen Roehl, managing attorney for Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Oshkosh office noted:

    “We have more low-income persons in our service area that qualify for our services than ever before. We have clients that had never been poor before – were in the middle class, had never qualified for our services in the past – and now, usually due to loss of a good-paying job they had for years, find themselves facing legal and economic issues they never thought they would ever have to face …”

    Monica Murphy, staff attorney with Disability Rights Wisconsin, detailed the impact of funding cuts on its services:

    “In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in the requests for our services. For example, in 2008 we provided 1:1 assistance to 3,779 people, in 2011 that number had jumped to 8,140. While the number of people seeking our assistance has jumped dramatically, the same cannot be said for our resources. In fact, in the last couple years, we have seen large cuts to some of the grants we depend on to provide services. While we have tried to make do using reserves that we have had and adopting austerity measures, we are now facing the prospect of eliminating up to six positions in the upcoming fiscal year.”

    Hearing Schedule

    The Eau Claire hearing is tomorrow at 4 p.m. Additional hearings are planned for Milwaukee (Sept. 13), Madison (Sept. 18), Wausau (Oct. 2), and La Crosse (Oct. 16).

    Attorneys, judges, and the public are all invited to attend and share their experiences, suggestions, and insights. Send written comments to the commission by email or regular mail at P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

    The commission wants to know:

    • Who is finding legal help?
    • Who is falling through the cracks?
    • What impact has finding, or not finding, legal help made in your life or the lives of the people you serve?
    • What is Wisconsin doing well for low-income or vulnerable residents who need help with civil legal issues?
    • What more should we all be doing?
    • How are you helping to meet the civil legal needs of those who cannot help themselves?

    The Access to Justice Commission develops and encourages means of expanding access to the civil justice system for unrepresented low-income Wisconsin residents. It was created in 2009 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court at the request of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Visit the Commission’s website for more information and updates.