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.

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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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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50 years of service at Wisconsin Judicare

“I felt hopeless until they stepped in.” “This service kept me from becoming homeless and bankrupt.” By Beth Richlen, Development Director, Wisconsin Judicare For 50 years, Wisconsin Judicare has provided legal services to individuals like these in northern Wisconsin. From Stevens Point to Superior, from Hudson to Marinette, and everywhere in between, the low-income residents of northern Wisconsin face difficult challenges, including equal access to justice.  Questions about how to obtain the return of a …

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An alternative for disputes in Winnebago County

“Despite 25 years of existence, we are still a well-kept secret,” said Michael Rust, Executive Director of the Winnebago Conflict Resolution Center, Inc. (WCRC) in Oshkosh. A pioneer in the area of alternative dispute resolution, the WCRC is a nonprofit organization providing mediation services throughout Wisconsin, free mediation services to residents of Winnebago County, and training in mediation and conflict resolution statewide. WCRC has nearly 50 volunteer mediators who come from all walks of life: …

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Taking a holistic approach to ending domestic violence

DAIS logoEach year Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) serves thousands of women, children and men through their life-changing programs. These individuals come from all facets of our community — they are our neighbors, coworkers, family and friends. DAIS provides hope and help through its staff and volunteers.

When someone reaches out to DAIS, they are connected with advocates who believe them. They are empowered by advocates to make complicated and courageous choices. They are supported by advocates who are committed to helping them break down barriers to safety through free and confidential services. When necessary, DAIS legal advocates have been able to connect some victims with volunteer attorneys through a collaboration with the Madison office of Quarles & Brady and Community Justice, Inc.. The collaboration with Dane County law firms and Community Justice is a modified version of the Lawyer for the Day program in Milwaukee.

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More help for victims in Winnebago County

Thanks to a $100,000 subgrant of federal STOP grant funds awarded by the Director of State Courts Office, Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services in Oshkosh has begun funding legal representation for victims of domestic violence who need representation in family law matters. The program was developed collaboratively by the Access to Justice Commission, Christine Ann Center, Winnebago Family Court Commissioner’s Office, and the Winnebago County Bar Association. The grant funds will be used to pay private …

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Commission launches new online legal advice website

Wisconsin Legal Advice OnlineThe Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission is pleased to announce the launch of Wisconsin Legal Advice Online (WLAO), a free online service that allows eligible Wisconsin residents to post legal questions for response by volunteer Wisconsin lawyers. Created by the Commission and sponsored by the State Bar’s pro bono program, WLAO is one way to make brief legal advice available to more Wisconsin residents.

WLAO is now recruiting volunteer attorneys to participate in this exciting and convenient way for lawyers to give back. Outreach to client communities will follow. Interested attorneys should visit the sign-up page to learn more about the program and to find answers to frequently asked questions.

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Advocate spotlight – Karen Bauer

Karen Bauer
Karen Bauer

The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee (LAS) was founded in 1916 “to do all things necessary for the prevention of injustice.” It is one of the nation’s oldest, continuously operating, public interest law firms, and it provides free legal assistance to needy Milwaukee County residents with civil legal problems.

Karen Bauer, a staff attorney with LAS, handles foreclosure defense, consumer law and student loan law cases. “Student loan law is kind of unique,” Bauer said. “Most people think student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy and so don’t think there are any legal remedies available. That’s a misconception.” Bauer pointed out that many people also aren’t aware of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007.

“Consumer protection law was my interest in law school. I became interested in student loans due to my own large student loan debt. I worked hard to pay tuition in college and law school, but at some point I had to take out loans,” she said.

Bauer shares what she knows in training presentations about legal remedies in the area of student loans. “Many people don’t know there are legal remedies. I want lawyers to know about them so they can share that information with their clients,” she said.

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