The Commission is working on a range of projects to achieve its mission to develop and encourage means of expanding access to the civil justice system for unrepresented low-income Wisconsin residents. We look for projects where we can make a difference and help Wisconsin achieve a statewide civil legal services delivery system that is comprehensive, integrated, efficient, accessible, effective, fair and just.
Preserving Federal Funding
The federal Legal Services Corporation is the largest single funding source for civil legal services to the indigent in Wisconsin. Fortunately, there seems to be bipartisan support in Congress for maintaining the critical source of support. But LSC is not immune from calls to reduce or even eliminate funding for the services it supports. The Commission shares in the responsibility for ensuring that Wisconsin’s legislative delegation understands that thousands of Wisconsin residents from the biggest cities to the smallest towns depend on access to LSC-funded civil legal services.
You can help too. Make sure that your members of Congress know where you stand on providing adequate funding for LSC. Visit our action page on PopVox to learn more and speak up.
Restoring State Funding
In 2011, Wisconsin became one of only four states in the country and the only state in the Midwest that provides no state funding for civil legal services to the indigent. Other Midwestern states budget an average of $7.6 million per year for indigent civil legal services. The impact has been disastrous for Wisconsin residents who can’t obtain the legal help they need and are unable to represent themselves when they face threats to their safety, housing, their children and more. The Commission has worked diligently with legislators, the State Bar of Wisconsin and other equal justice stakeholders to restore at least some targeted funding for civil legal services in Wisconsin. You can read more about those efforts here.
It will take a team effort from all stakeholders, including state government, to address this challenge.
Funding civil legal services for the poor is part of a public-private partnership to achieve justice, and financial support at all levels of government is essential.
It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that private sources – foundations, other donors, attorney contributions, and volunteer lawyers – can, or should,
meet the entire support needs of the civil legal services system.
– Gregg Moore, President, Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission
What can you do? Call, write or visit your elected representatives. Make sure that they know how much you value their support for civil legal services to the indigent. Click here to find out who represents you.
Increasing Private Funding
Our goal is to increase private foundation giving to civil legal assistance efforts in Wisconsin. The Commission has been meeting with a variety of private funding sources in Wisconsin to educate them about the linkage between access to civil legal assistance and a variety of the social issues that private foundations are seeking to address. Providing equal access to appropriate civil legal assistance can help private funders achieve their objectives to: reduce the impact of domestic violence, increase access to employment, prevent homelessness, expand health care coverage and much more. The Commission is working with the American Bar Association’s Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives and others to bring together Natural Allies: civil legal services and Wisconsin’s private foundations.
What can you do? Make sure that the family, community and United Way foundations in your area know about the connection between access to legal help and the ability to solve the other problems they have identified as priority areas for grants. Print a copy of the Natural Allies brochure and meet with the appropriate person at foundations where you have a relationship to talk about how support for civil legal services translates into broader foundation goals.
Developing New Resources
The Commission developed a fact sheet on the voluntary use of cy pres to distribute residual funds left over in class action lawsuits to support civil legal services to the indigent in Wisconsin. Other states have well developed programs for the use of cy pres to support civil legal services either through educational outreach, by court rule or by statute (pdf). The Commission believes that Wisconsin can do more in this area and will continue to suggest improvements.
If you are involved in a class action case and are unable to distribute all the funds, consider designating a cy pres recipient as outlined in our fact sheet. When an award is distributed this way, you can rest assured the funds will be used in a manner consistent with the intent of the award. And you can make a significant difference in the lives of Wisconsin residents who desperately need access to civil legal assistance with issues related to safety, shelter, employment, health care and consumer protection.
Raising Public Awareness
As part of its outreach efforts, the Commission convened a series of six public hearings in communities across Wisconsin to gather and highlight information about the current state of access to justice. Hearings were held in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Madison, Wausau and La Crosse. At each hearing, advocates for equal justice and members of the community had a chance to share with the Commission and community leaders what they saw as the challenges and opportunities ahead. The Commission’s summary of the issues raised in the hearings and its recommendations are presented in its report, The State of Equal Justice in Wisconsin.
What can you do? Help us spread the word about what’s working and what’s not working with access to civil legal help for low-income and vulnerable Wisconsin residents. Members of the Commission and staff are available to speak at your events or to groups in your community about how you can get involved in supporting equal justice for all. We also have public outreach materials that you can incorporate into your planning and services.