On the state of equal justice in Wisconsin

Hearing panel in Eau Claire
Hon. Molly GaleWyrick, Gregg Moore & Mike Waterman listen to testimony in Eau Claire

The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission has released its report with key findings and recommendations on how to improve access to justice for unrepresented, low-income Wisconsin residents. The report draws on testimony from over 137 witnesses who provided testimony at a series of regional public hearings in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Madison, La Crosse and Wausau.

More funding for civil legal services, increased support for pro bono efforts, and an expanded role for nonlawyers are a few of the recommendations in the report.

Since its creation by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2009, the Commission has worked to foster expanded access to the justice system for unrepresented, low-income Wisconsin residents. The State of Equal Justice In Wisconsin is the Commission’s latest effort to highlight both the challenges we face but also some of the bright spots that deserve more attention.

There are many paths to justice. Some of them lead to the courthouse door. As one speaker in Madison observed, access to justice means more than just being free to participate in a proceeding. When the stakes are high and individuals are unable to help themselves, more help is often needed:

 “It means having effective participation in a proceeding. In our system, that generally means having a trained advocate. Allowing someone to be present in a proceeding that they don’t understand is not access to justice. It might be access to a courtroom, but it’s not access to justice,” Kevin Magee, Legal Action of Wisconsin

Read moreOn the state of equal justice in Wisconsin

Just words

What’s in a word? Quite a bit actually. Whether it is a single word like justice or a concept like equal justice, words convey basic information and complex thoughts about what matters to us. Wordle is a free web service that helps you visualize the frequency of words in a selection of text that you provide. The larger a word appears, the more times it appears in the text that was analyzed. Sometimes it’s useful …

Read moreJust words

La Crosse regional access to justice hearing is October 16

Image credit: jesabelle

You are invited to share your experiences and ideas at our final public hearing in La Crosse on October 16. This is a chance to share your knowledge of the challenges facing low-income Wisconsin residents when they need legal help with critical civil (not criminal) legal problems. We want to hear from you!

Date: October 16, 2012

Time: 4:00- 6:00 pm

Where:  Cleary Center at UW-La Crosse, 615 East Ave N,  La Crosse, WI 54601 (Directions; Free parking in the lot immediately south of the Cleary Center)

Your experiences, suggestions and insights on issues of housing, safety, family, employment and more are important to us.

We want to know:

  • Who is receiving civil legal assistance?
  • Who is falling through the cracks?
  • What impact has receiving legal assistance made in your life or the lives of the people you serve?
  • What is Wisconsin doing well for its low-income or vulnerable residents who need help with civil legal issues?
  • How are you helping to meet the civil legal needs of those who cannot help themselves?

Read moreLa Crosse regional access to justice hearing is October 16

Milwaukee and Madison speakers highlight the fraying legal safety net for the poor

Jefferson County Judge Bill Hue

On September 13 in Milwaukee and then again on September 18 in Madison, local community members, judges, lawyers, social services agencies and others gathered to share their experiences in providing or finding civil legal assistance for low income people in Wisconsin.

The Access to Justice Commission is entering the home stretch for its series of regional access to justice hearings. The hearings began on July 24 in Green Bay and continued in Eau Claire on July 31. September’s hearings were in Milwaukee and Madison. The next hearings will be held in Wausau (October 2) and La Crosse (October 16).

Some common themes have already emerged from the testimony. The scale and complexity of the challenges we face in providing equal justice to all without regard to income is daunting. There are signs of hope and good ideas for how to move forward can be found in many places.

Clearly, the elimination of state funding for civil legal services to the indigent is widening the justice gap for low income people in Wisconsin. The legal aid system can only do more with less for a time; funding cuts and layoffs mean that they must now do less with less.

But the problems and the solutions go beyond money.

Read moreMilwaukee and Madison speakers highlight the fraying legal safety net for the poor

Wausau access to justice hearing is October 2

Rib Mountain
Source: WI Department of Natural Resources

You are invited to share your experiences and ideas at a public hearing in Wausau organized by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. This is a chance to share your knowledge of the challenges facing low-income Wisconsin residents when they need legal help with critical civil (not criminal) legal problems. We want to hear from you!

Date: October 2, 2012

Time: 4:00- 6:00 pm

Where: UW-Marathon County Center for Civic Engagement, 625 Stewart Avenue, Wausau, (Directions)

Your experiences, suggestions and insights on issues of housing, safety, family, employment and more are important to us.

We want to know:

  • Who is receiving civil legal assistance?
  • Who is falling through the cracks?
  • What impact has receiving legal assistance made in your life or the lives of the people you serve?
  • What is Wisconsin doing well for its low-income or vulnerable residents who need help with civil legal issues?
  • How are you helping to meet the civil legal needs of those who cannot help themselves?

Read moreWausau access to justice hearing is October 2

Milwaukee to host regional access to justice hearing on September 13

Milwaukee fireworks
Photo by Magrolino

You are invited to a public hearing in Milwaukee to share what you know about the challenges facing low income residents in southeastern Wisconsin when they need legal help with critical civil (not criminal) legal problems. The event is being organized by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. We want to hear from you!

When: September 13, 2012, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Where: Marquette University Law School, Appellate Courtroom, 1215 W. Michigan St., Milwaukee – Directions & Parking

Your experiences, suggestions and insights on issues of housing, safety, family, employment and more are important to us. Who is finding help? Who is falling through the cracks? What impact has finding, or not finding, legal help made in your life or the lives of the people you serve? What is Wisconsin doing well for its low-income or vulnerable residents who need help with civil legal issues? What should we all be doing? How are you helping to meet the civil legal needs of those who cannot help themselves?

This is your chance to tell the panel of Commission members and community leaders that we’ve assembled what’s important to you or to the people you serve.

Read moreMilwaukee to host regional access to justice hearing on September 13

Madison to host regional access to justice hearing on September 18

Coneflower
Photo: Rx Kamakshi

You are invited to a public hearing in Madison to share what you know about the challenges facing low income residents in southcentral Wisconsin when they need legal help with critical civil (not criminal) legal problems. The event is being organized by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. We want to hear from you!

When:  September 18, 2012, 4:30 – 7:00 p.m.

Where:  Madison Area Technical College, 1701 Wright Street (Room 142-Lounge) – Directions

Your experiences, suggestions and insights on issues of housing, safety, family, employment and more are important to us. Who is finding help? Who is falling through the cracks? What impact has finding, or not finding, legal help made in your life or the lives of the people you serve? What is Wisconsin doing well for its low-income or vulnerable residents who need help with civil legal issues? What should we all be doing? How are you helping to meet the civil legal needs of those who cannot help themselves?

This is your chance to tell the panel of Commission members and community leaders that we’ve assembled what’s important to you or to the people you serve.

Read moreMadison to host regional access to justice hearing on September 18

Compelling testimony in Eau Claire on the importance of access to justice

Panel members at the hearing
Judge GaleWyrick, Gregg Moore & Mike Waterman

It was a remarkable evening in Eau Claire. Members of the community came out on July 31 to share their thoughts about the state of access to justice in the area. Representatives from domestic violence prevention groups, the court system, legal services organizations, the faith community and the private bar concurred that the needs they see are growing. Rosemary Elbert, Executive Director at Wisconsin Judicare noted a fundamental her organization faces in trying to meet the civil legal needs of the indigent in northern Wisconsin: “The funding is going down. The needs are going up.”

The Commission is particularly grateful for the participation of elected representatives from the area, including Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, Sen. Bob Jauch, Rep. Kathy Bernier and Rep. Warren Petryk. Congressman Ron Kind was represented by Mark Aumann from his Eau Claire office. Other hearing panel members included Court of Appeals Judge Gary Sherman, 10th Judicial District Deputy Chief Judge Molly GaleWyrick, Mike Waterman from the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors, Robin Thibado from West CAP and Linda McIntyre from the Community Foundation of Dunn County. They were joined by Commission members Gregg Moore and Duana Bremer

Read moreCompelling testimony in Eau Claire on the importance of access to justice

Eau Claire hearing on access to justice is today

This afternoon, the second in a series of regional access to justice hearings will take place in Eau Claire. We’re looking forward to a varied mix of speakers from the area, including legal services groups, concerned members of the public, judges and volunteer attorneys. The justice gap is very real for thousands of Wisconsin residents who cannot obtain the legal help they need to protect their housing, family, safety, employment or access to health care. …

Read moreEau Claire hearing on access to justice is today

Onward: From Green Bay to Eau Claire

Community members and advocates from throughout the Green Bay and Fox Valley region gathered in Green Bay this week to share their experiences in responding to the overwhelming civil legal needs facing low-income area residents in the area. They were attending the first regional access to justice hearing convened by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. Our next hearing will be held in Eau Claire on July 31.

Speakers described struggling as professionals, as parents and as members of the community when they see when people have no financial resources and no where to turn for help to deal with domestic violence, foreclosure, evictions, child custody, unemployment, special education, disability benefits and more.

The Green Bay hearing panel heard from attorneys who volunteer their time to help at free legal clinics, staff from legal services organizations, parents and social workers.

Representatives from Disability Rights Wisconsin, Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare described how demand for their help has surged. At the same time, they detailed the staff and service reductions that followed the cuts in funding for the legal services they provide. 

Read moreOnward: From Green Bay to Eau Claire