To: Members of the Joint Finance Committee
From: Francis W. Deisinger, President, State Bar of Wisconsin
Date: March 22, 2017
Re: 2017-2019 Budget - Pay Progression and Private Bar Rate
I am the president of the State Bar of Wisconsin, which represents nearly 25,000 licensed Wisconsin lawyers. We are asking for your support for additional funding proposed in the 2017-2019 budget to provide adequate compensation to attract and retain quality attorneys throughout the justice system.
The State Bar takes policy positions judiciously, but it is our longstanding policy to support pay progression for Attorneys General, Assistant District Attorneys, Deputy District Attorneys, and Public Defender Attorneys, as well as an increased reimbursement rate for assigned counsel. We believe very strongly that knowledgeable and experienced attorneys on all sides in the criminal justice system are essential to ensure the best outcome for all parties, including victims, the accused and the taxpaying public.
In the Governor’s 2017-2019 proposed budget, additional funding for pay progression is provided for both the State Public Defender’s (SPD) office and District Attorneys budgets. The State Bar supports the continued funding of pay progression for Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs), Deputy District Attorneys (DDAs) and Assistant State Public Defenders (ASPDs) and I urge you to support retaining those provisions and finding a long-term solution to the retention of these important attorney positions as you go through the budget process this spring. Pay progression helps the government retain talented and experienced employees by rewarding attorneys with increasing years of service. Retention is a major concern with ADAs, DDAs and ASPDs. Ensuring that these offices can retain experienced attorneys will help ensure that the constitutional rights of our citizens are protected, and that our justice system is working efficiently.
Public Defender and Private Bar Rate
The State Bar appreciates Governor Walker’s support for a funding increase in the State Public Defender’s budget, but also encourages committee members to include an increase in the private bar rate, from the current $40 an hour, in the final budget. Wisconsin currently has the lowest rate in the nation, a rate that has not changed since 1995. This stagnation has led to significant problems finding qualified attorneys to take on certain cases, particularly those involving sexual assault. With the rate remaining unchanged, the State Bar believes that in our state an individual’s constitutional right to a fair trial with an effective defense inevitably will erode, while at the same time, and for the same reason, there will be increased litigation in the appeals court system.
We know you understand that the justice system is complex and that we need to ensure that knowledgeable attorneys protect the constitutional rights of our citizens. Any of these requests would likely improve attorney retention within their respective agencies; combined, however, these changes would not only improve the likelihood of justice for all parties, but would also lead to overall efficiency for all involved in the judicial system.
If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact State Bar lobbyists Cale Battles or (608) 250-6077 or Lynne Davis.