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Commission testifies in support of a civil right to counsel

Outside the court chamber
Prof. Marsha Mansfield outside the courtroom (background, Legal Action's John Ebbott and retired Justice Earl Johnson, Jr.)

At Tuesday’s hearing in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Access to Justice Commission reiterated its support for a new rule that would lead more Circuit Court judges to appoint attorneys for indigent Wisconsin residents in certain civil court cases. During an all-day session to hear arguments for and against the petition, the justices heard from over 20 witnesses, including judges, court commissioners, attorneys, county governments, clerks of court and members of the public. The entire proceeding was shown live on Wisconsin Eye and is now available in their video archive.

Professor Marsha Mansfield spoke on behalf of the Commission, assuring the justices that “we want to be creative and engaged in a process to make this a reality.” As Professor Mansfield noted, this is an issue of fundamental fairness in our legal system, because there are “people who really do need the help of a lawyer in order to successfully present their case: not win or lose but just to be a able to fully develop the facts or law necessary to have a full decision rendered.”

News coverage of the proceeding can be found in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin Public Radio and on the State Bar of Wisconsin website. The AP story was also picked up by many other news outlets around the state.

The next step is an open administrative conference at the Supreme Court on October 17 where the justices will discuss whether to grant or deny the petition in whole or in part. The Access the Justice Commission, the State Bar and many others have offered to work with the Supreme Court on the important issues raised at the hearing.