Measuring Justice in Wisconsin

Wisconsin received its annual report card in the latest Justice Index, an assessment tool developed by the National Center for Access to Justice.

New video – What is civil legal aid and why is it so important?

Here is a great example of how to explain what civil legal aid is and why it’s so important. It’s a network of resources that help make justice available to everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for it. The video was produced by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation and is distributed with assistance from Voices for Civil Justice and the Kresge Foundation.

Just Wisconsin News for November

In this month’s Just Wisconsin newsletter, we have updates on the Legislative Council Study Committee on Access to Civil Legal Services, upcoming changes to Wisconsin Legal Advice Online, a new eviction defense project in Milwaukee and some national news highlights. The Pro Bono Honor Society is also looking for outstanding attorneys who have provided at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono legal services in 2016. One additional news item not included in the newsletter …

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New study committee on access to civil legal services

A new Study Committee on Access to Civil Legal Services was recently launched by the Wisconsin Legislative Council. The 16-member committee includes 6 legislators and 10 public members, including Jim Gramling, President of the Access to Justice Commission. The chair is Rep. Cody Horlacher and the vice-chair is Sen. Duey Stroebel. A full roster is available here. The study committee was created in response to a unanimous powerful request from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The committee’s charge is “to review the …

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New funding for civil legal services is on the way

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its final order requiring that at least one-half of unclaimed funds in class action settlements and judgments be directed to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation to support civil legal services to the poor. The court’s unanimous order was issued in response to Petition 15-06 filed by the Access to Justice Commission. This class action rule change takes effect on January 1, 2017. It will apply to cases filed on and after the effective date as …

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The eviction spiral

Evicted book cover
Image: Copyright Crown

The rising cost of housing has led to an increase in the number of evictions nationwide, and Wisconsin is no exception. For the two most recent years where numbers are available, there were 28,501 eviction cases filed in 2012 and 28,812 in 2013. Most tenants face these legal proceedings without counsel. But an eviction is not only extremely unsettling for tenants; it has significant short and long-term socio-economic impacts. Access to legal services can help reduce those costs.

In a 2015 article for the UW Institute for Research on Poverty, Matthew Desmond noted that, “Today, the majority of poor renting families spend at least half of their income on housing costs. And almost a quarter — representing over a million families — dedicate over 70 percent of their income to pay rent and keep the lights on…. Eviction has become commonplace in low-income communities.” Desmond goes on to detail how “Residential instability often brings about other forms of instability — in families, schools, communities — compromising the life chances of adults and children.”

Desmond probes the spiral of eviction-induced instability in his new book – Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Among other things, Desmond found that evictions are often a driver, not a side-effect of economic instability. This unexpected conclusion has significant policy implications. In her article for The Atlantic, Gillian B. White concisely summarizes the downward spiral after an eviction: “The psychological, legal, and financial damage inflicted by the process makes it difficult to find new housing, or to keep a job, or provide a stable education for children.” Landlords are reluctant to rent to tenants who have been evicted in the past. Employers often look at the credit history of applicants and screen out those with low scores, including those caused by an eviction judgement. Families then have to settle for the least desirable housing in the least desirable areas, with fewer economic opportunities for themselves and lower performing schools for their children.

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Comments sought on access to justice rule petitions

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is seeking comment on two pending rule petitions that support access to justice efforts in Wisconsin. The Access to Justice Commission filed Petition 15-06 seeking a rule change that would allocate 50% of unclaimed class action awards to support civil legal services to low income persons (aka cy pres). The State Bar of Wisconsin filed Petition 15-05 proposing rule changes to allow lawyers to claim a limited amount of CLE credit for certain pro bono …

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More help is on the way for DV victims in Winnebago County

Christine Ann logoThe Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission is pleased to announce that a $100,000 subgrant has been awarded to the Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services in Oshkosh to fund legal representation for domestic violence victims in that area. The subgrant proposal was developed through a collaboration between the ATJ Commission, the Christine Ann Center, the Winnebago Family Court Commissioner’s Office, and the Winnebago County Bar Association. The subgrant of STOP funds from the Director of State Courts Office will be used to help pay private attorneys who have been trained to represent abuse victims who already receive other support services from Christine Ann.

The ATJ Commission worked with partners in Winnebago County to develop a project proposal that builds upon a successful all-volunteer restraining order clinic already operating in Winnebago County. It is anticipated that over 100 victims will be served by this project and it offers the opportunity to examine closely the economic, social and judicial outcomes of providing representation in these types of cases. The program is expected to be in operation by September 2015.

The purpose of the Winnebago County project is to measure and evaluate the cost and effectiveness of providing attorneys to represent victims in family law cases that involve domestic violence.

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Wisconsin equal justice conference recap

M1027-WEJC-logo-webThe Wisconsin Equal Justice Conference is an education forum for advocates on access to justice issues related to low-income and disadvantaged clients. More than 120 people attended this year’s biennial conference in Milwaukee on March 6, 2015. Sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin Legal Assistance Committee and Public Interest Law Section, as well as the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission, the conference offered a variety of presentations on topics of interest to attorneys who do pro bono work or are employed in public service. Here is a short summary of the conference sessions. Conference materials are available online (login may be required).

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Lawyer for a day update

By Michael Gonring Milwaukee’s Lawyer for a Day program to have volunteer lawyers provide representation to victims seeking restraining order injunctions has now been up and running for 18 months. This is an update on our progress. During our first 18 months, 478 petitioners were referred to the program through Sojourner Family Peace Center and then screened by law students at Marquette University Law School. Injunctions were granted in 71 percent of the contested hearings …

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