Civil legal aid Moves Wisconsin forward

The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission has a longstanding commitment to increasing funding for civil legal aid from all sources, public and private. Civil legal aid has a history of bipartisan support in Wisconsin. So, we are pleased to see Governor Evers building on the good work of his predecessors and the Legislature in his proposed appropriations for civil legal aid in the 2021-2023 budget. This proposed funding increase will bring us closer to meeting …

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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 statewide help for elder abuse victims

By Sam Wegleitner, Legal Action of Wisconsin Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare will be providing statewide civil legal aid to elder abuse victims through the Elder Rights Project (ERP). The Elder Rights project seeks to help elder abuse victims in Wisconsin become safe and independent, stabilize their lives, and meet their emotional and physical needs by resolving their critical civil legal problems. Fees and fines imposed on criminals (through the Victims of Crime …

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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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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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Provider profile – Legal Action of Wisconsin

 

legalaction_logoThe legal problems faced by low-income people often threaten them with dire consequences: eviction, loss of income, domestic violence, loss of health care, homelessness, repossession of vehicles (which can result in the loss of employment) and more. These are the problems that Legal Action of Wisconsin (LAW) helps over 8,000 people address each year. While the cases usually do not involve large sums of money, the outcomes for poor families can be of enormous importance. LAW’s advocates provide legal assistance with a wide range of legal issues to help families maintain their homes, their income, and their personal safety.

LAW serves a 39-county area of southern and central Wisconsin (Wisconsin’s northern 33 counties are served by Wisconsin Judicare), with offices located in Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, Oshkosh, Green Bay and LaCrosse. Its service area includes approximately 75 percent of Wisconsin’s poverty population. Some of its projects are statewide, such as the Migrant Project, which provides help to migrant and seasonal farmworkers with issues such as unpaid wages and other employment-related matters. LAW handles a diverse range of issues, including housing, family law, public benefits, consumer law and employment issues. A low-income family faced with these problems without legal representation may face a loss of housing or income that will push it into a severe financial crisis or homelessness. Effective legal representation can often prevent that from happening and help maintain stability for a family.

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Provider spotlight: Kids Matter

Kids MatterKids Matter Inc. was founded in 2000 to help abused and neglected youth in the greater Milwaukee area. It is a small agency with a big mission.

Kids Matter is the only legal services agency providing non-GAL civil legal services within the child welfare system and for informal kinship families in Wisconsin. In addition to providing direct legal services for children and families, Kids Matter provides free legal information to the public and technical advice to attorneys and professionals. In an effort to keep up with growing demand, the Kids Matter website includes a guide to legal guardianship that has been used by caregivers in all 72 Wisconsin counties. As youth turn to the web for information first, Kids Matter has also developed “know your rights” guides for youth in foster care.

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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

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