Readers of this column know that I believe strongly that a central responsibility of the State Bar of Wisconsin is the pursuit of justice. If lawyers don’t speak up for justice, who will?
But lawyers don’t just talk about it. Working lawyers are the human engine at the heart of our justice system, as advocates and as judges. Our association must promote and defend those lawyers. Last month I mentioned the threat looming for federal support for civil legal services lawyers for low-income people. We are actively lobbying for continued support.
On the criminal law side of the justice system, the best protection for all involved in the process – victims, defendants, and the people of our state – is that they are represented by good lawyers, and their cases heard and decided by good judges. For that to continue to be the case in Wisconsin, we must address the fact that pay for our judges, our prosecutors, and our defense lawyers, whether public defenders or those who accept private appointments, has slipped significantly over the last generation. Indeed, the $40 per hour rate in Wisconsin for private appointments is embarrassingly out of date and insufficient.
Recently I wrote to Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature to express the State Bar’s support for Chief Justice Roggensack’s request to raise judicial salaries. I have also written to express the importance of pay progression for prosecutors and public defenders, and for an increase in the private appointment rate. The State Bar of Wisconsin will continue to support these efforts.
The consequences of an inefficient
or unfair criminal justice system
are profound in both human and
At the April Board of Governors meeting, the board approved a petition to increase to $100 the hourly rate paid to private bar attorneys who take appointments from the State Public Defender’s Office. The petition asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to increase the rate under SCR 81.02, from $40 to $100, starting in 2018.
We do our residents and our state no favors if we shortchange the advocates and arbiters whose work is essential to our criminal justice system operating fairly, justly, and efficiently, because the consequences of an inefficient or unfair criminal justice system are profound in both human and economic terms. Please speak up for your colleagues on this important issue.