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    Jeff BrownFrederick KesslerJames Sakar

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 79, No. 4, April 2006


    Letters to the editor: The Wisconsin Lawyer publishes as many letters in each issue as space permits. Please limit letters to 500 words; letters may be edited for length and clarity. Letters should address the issues, and not be a personal attack on others. Letters endorsing political candidates cannot be accepted. Please mail letters to " Letters to the Editor," Wisconsin Lawyer, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158, fax them to (608) 257-4343, or email them.

    Unpaid Legal Services are "Pro Bono"

    While it is not at all surprising that Wisconsin lawyers have contributed well in excess of $11 million in free legal services to the poor (see the State Bar's February 2006 Inside the Bar newsletter), I think many of us would also like recognition that we, in private practice, provide free legal services every year on a de facto basis to people who simply do not pay our bills. In some instances, these may be people who also would qualify under the definition of low income. In other instances, people simply do not pay.

    In any event, all of the above are receiving access to the Wisconsin courts through our unpaid services. We do not get to take tax deductions or receive any benefit from this. How can this not also be considered a form of pro bono services?

    I submit that a survey including this category would probably triple your $11 million figure on an annual basis. Granted, it may be involuntary, but it certainly is pro bono.

    James R. Sakar

    Response: Many Wisconsin lawyers do make a pro bono contribution by continuing to provide legal services to clients even after they know that the client can no longer afford to pay the bill or by using a sliding scale at the outset based on the client's income. Professional services provided at a reduced fee are a type of pro bono work explicitly recognized in Rule 6.1. The State Bar's 2005 Pro Bono Survey asked multiple questions about reduced fee pro bono work for low income clients and the organizations that serve them. The survey also gave members the following definition of "reduced fee":

    "'Reduced fee' pro bono work means (for this survey): (1) provision of legal services to a person of limited means when a lawyer is appointed by a court to represent such a client for a reduced fee set by the court, rule, or statute; and (2) legal services rendered to a person of limited means when, although the matter may have begun as a paying matter, the lawyer expects and receives no further compensation and voluntarily continues to represent the client."

    Bills written off for a wealthy client as "good will" or because a difficult client won't pay are different stories and should, in this lawyer's opinion, never be considered pro bono.

    The full 2005 Pro Bono Survey Report can be viewed at www.wisbar.org/2005probonosurvey.

    Jeff Brown
    State Bar Pro Bono Coordinator

    Jackamonis Led the Way on Court Reorganization

    The recent passing of former Assembly Speaker Ed Jackamonis brings to mind his important contribution to modernizing Wisconsin's court system. Although he was not an attorney, Jackamonis shepherded the 1978 court reorganization through the Wisconsin Legislature.

    When the voters passed the 1977 referendum creating the new constitutional provisions regarding the court system, Jackamonis, as chair of the Wisconsin Legislative Council, immediately created a Special Committee on Court Reorganization to draft the implementation legislation. He was influential in selecting the committee's members, and served on it himself. The committee, chaired by then State Sen. Jim Flynn, drafted legislation that passed, making substantial changes in the administration and organization of the court system.

    Jackamonis was a proponent of a single-level trial court system, believing such a system would operate more efficiently and effectively. The merger of the county courts with the circuit courts was very controversial, drawing opposition from the more senior circuit judges and from some of the rural county court branch one judges (branch one only handled probate and juvenile cases; branch two handled the more numerous traffic, misdemeanor, small claims, and family law cases in counties with two county court branches). Some lawyers also were opposed because in certain rural counties the county judge automatically sent jury trials to the circuit court. A handful of county judges never tried jury cases.

    The committee, by an 8-7 vote, recommended the single-level trial court system after reaching a compromise to allow a single court of appeals judge to hear traffic, misdemeanor, small claims, and juvenile cases. Some on the committee did not want "minor" cases to be heard by the court of appeals. Without Jackamonis's decisive intervention, the dual-level court system would have continued.

    In order for the trial court system to have the flexibility it needed, the committee recommended that chief judges be appointed rather than elected, a proposal many judges opposed. The committee recommended removing the special statutory jurisdiction of branch one judges and gave the appointed chief judges the power to set up a system for case allocation in all their counties in each administrative district. It also gave them power to assign judges to branches where they were needed. The proposal gave chief judges the extra tools to enforce intra-judicial district cooperation by giving them the power to appoint the court commissioners and registrars in probate in all counties in their district.

    Jackamonis's impact also was felt in other areas. He created a subcommittee that reconstituted the judicial discipline process, providing for a panel of appeals court judges to hear the case and find the facts in judicial misconduct cases brought by the Judicial Commission.

    Speaker Jackamonis's public role was most recognized in the organization of the court of appeals. He represented the city of Waukesha in the State Assembly and used his influence to ensure that one of the four court of appeals districts was sited in Waukesha. The committee insisted on regional appellate districts rather than a court of appeals at large in the state, believing that litigants and lawyers would be convenienced by not having to travel to Madison to obtain a final decision in a dispute. Rather than remaining in the Speaker's chair, Jackamonis led the floor fight as party leader to pass the legislation. Other than some minor amendments, the final bill that was passed and signed into law was the product of his Court Reorganization Committee.

    As court reform approaches its 30th anniversary, it is right to recognize Ed Jackamonis's leading role in modernizing our court system.

    Frederick P. Kessler
    State Representative, 12th Assembly District