March 21, 2013 – The State Bar of Wisconsin applauds the Wisconsin Supreme Court for calling on members of the state Joint Committee on Finance to “support state funding to assist indigent self-represented persons in meeting their legal needs.”
State funding for Wisconsin’s civil legal services programs helps low-income individuals and families face civil legal issues, such as evictions, foreclosure, and protection from abusers. Veterans, seniors, and domestic violence victims are among the thousands of Wisconsinites who need legal help from these valuable programs.
“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,” said Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, in her testimony on behalf of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Andrea Gage is public relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.
As Chief Justice Abrahamson pointed out, the court is also able to run more efficiently when litigants have the assistance of attorneys.
“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 Chief Justice Abrahamson.
Wisconsin is far behind neighboring Midwestern states in addressing residents’ ability to access the justice system. Other Midwestern states budget an average of $7.6 million per year for civil legal services to the indigent. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is one of only four states providing $0 in the state budget for civil legal services to the indigent. Even before the economic downturn, more than 500,000 low-income residents regularly faced a critical civil legal problem without any legal assistance.
In addition to forming the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission by order of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, State Bar members are actively working to close the justice gap:
Wisconsin lawyers, judges and justices pay $50 annually to provide more than $800,000 in support for civil legal services.
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.
To learn more about what Wisconsin attorneys do to help the public, visit wisbar.org and click on Public Services and Programs. To learn more about the Access to Justice Commission, visit wisatj.org.