To: Members of the Joint Finance Committee
From: State Bar of Wisconsin
Date: August 23, 2017
Re: Public Defender Pay Progression & Private Bar Rate
The State Bar has a longstanding policy of supporting pay progression for Attorneys General, Assistant District Attorneys, Deputy District Attorneys, and Public Defender Attorneys, as well as additional compensation for judges and justices throughout the state. The State Bar was extremely pleased by the previous action of the Joint Finance Committee to provide pay progression to Assistant District Attorneys and Deputy District Attorneys and long-awaited increases to judicial salaries. The committee, however, did not fund pay progression for state Public Defenders at the same level as their justice system counterparts, creating an inequity in the system. Public Defenders are a vital component in protecting the rights of our citizens and our justice system requires balance and equality for all stakeholders.
The State Bar strongly supports pay progression for the State Public Defender’s (SPD) staff. State Public Defender, Kelli Thompson, has proposed a reasonable and thoughtful approach that would utilize existing revenue and help to close the disparity gap between the SPD staff and Assistant District Attorneys. The State Bar supports this approach and would strongly encourage the Joint Finance Committee to approve Attorney Thompson’s plan. Ensuring these offices retain experienced attorneys allows the constitutional rights of our citizens to be protected and that our system of justice is efficient and effective.
Private Bar Rate
The State Bar also strongly supports an increase in the Private Bar reimbursement rate above the current $40 per hour. This is the lowest rate in the nation and the rate has been unchanged since 1995. Attorney overhead costs and the rate of inflation continue to push experienced private bar attorneys away from taking cases.
An increase to the $40 per hour rate in Wisconsin for private bar appointments is long overdue and the unreasonably low private bar rate continues to have dire effects on the system. The lack of private bar attorneys in certain areas of the state has caused delays and postponements, inconveniencing victims and police officers and increasing county jail stays.
If the state raised these outdated private bar rates to an acceptable level, the pool of qualified attorneys willing to take SPD cases would increase and the efficiency in appointing cases would also improve. Delays in our court system would decrease, costly appeals might be avoided and fewer victims would be re-victimized by drawn out legal proceedings.
For more information, please do not hesitate to contact the State Bar lobbyists, Cale Battles, firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 695-5686, or Lynne Davis, email@example.com or (608) 852-3603.