Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted unanimously to deny Petition 10-08. The petitioners were requesting a new court rule that would have required circuit court judges to appoint attorneys at public expense for low income litigants in certain types of civil court cases:
(2) Appearance by attorney. PROVIDED. Where a civil litigant is indigent (defined as below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines), the court shall provide counsel at public expense where the assistance of counsel is needed to protect the litigant’s rights to basic human needs, including sustenance, shelter, clothing, heat, medical care, safety and child custody and placement. In making the determination as to whether the assistance of counsel is needed, the court may consider the personal characteristics of the litigant, such as age, mental capacity, education and knowledge of the law and of legal proceedings, and the complexity of the case.
The draft order denying the petition is here (pdf) and the final order should be posted here once several changes from the open administrative conference are incorporated. Video of the administrative conference is available on Wisconsin Eye (discussion of Petition 10-08 begins at the 1:19 mark).
Consideration of this issue now shifts to the Access to Justice Commission. As reflected in the Commission’s recent letter to the Supreme Court, a working group has been formed to examine potential pilot projects that could be developed to evaluate the costs and benefits of providing legal counsel for low income litigants in certain types of civil legal matters. The working group held an initial meeting to discuss the project and is scheduled to meet again on January 30 at 1 pm (contact us for more information about the working group).