Wisconsin state budget defunds legal aid for the poor

Just one day after the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission voted to support a civil right to counsel, the state of Wisconsin took a major step back from its support for equal justice under law. Both the Assembly and the Senate voted along party lines to approve the budget, including a provision proposed by the Governor that ends all funding for indigent civil legal services in Wisconsin.  The bill now goes to Governor Walker for his signature and any vetoes. …

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Commission supports a civil right to counsel

At their meeting today, the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission voted unanimously to adopt the following statement: “The Access to Justice Commission emphatically endorses the right to legal counsel for low income Wisconsin residents when basic human needs are at stake, as embodied in Petition 10-08, Petition to Establish a Right to Counsel in Civil Cases, and as found in American Bar Association Recommendation 112A, dated August 7, 2006, which has been adopted by the Board …

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Wisconsin risks widening the justice gap

Wisconsin Capitol BuildingThe Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee moved one step closer to eliminating state funding for civil legal services to the indigent in Wisconsin, voting 13-3 on Thursday to remove the funding from the 2011-2013 budget.  The majority’s proposal (pdf) adopts Gov. Walker’s budget proposal to delete both the funding for civil legal services to the indigent and the statutory language that currently governs the administration of the grants. A motion to restore partial funding (pdf) was defeated 4-12.

Wisconsin currently provides about $2.6 million per year in state funding through the Justice Information Surcharge (pdf) to provide access to justice for Wisconsin residents who are experiencing serious civil legal problems but are unable to obtain legal assistance any other way because they have little or no income, are elderly, or are victims of abuse. Wisconsin’s civil legal services providers are a cost-effective way to provide a vital public service to thousands of Wisconsin residents. That much is clear from the most recent report from the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (pdf) to the Department of Administration:

“In 2009-2010, for every dollar of state civil legal services appropriation funding, Wisconsin’s civil legal services providers received or recovered $11.36 for their clients (a net gain for the state of more than ten dollars for every dollar invested).”

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US DOJ grants for legal services

The U.S. Dept. of Justice website now includes a “Grant Information” resource page that should interest the civil legal services community. According to the website, the purpose of the page is “to identify open grants, training and technical assistance that may be of particular interest to defender agencies, courts, state, local and tribal jurisdictions, research and academic institutions, and non-profit organizations that are working to enhance legal assistance and related services for historically underserved populations.” …

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Budget deal cuts LSC funding

The federal Legal Services Corporation reported today that the recent budget deal between the White House and Congress includes a cut of $15.8 million (3.8%) in funding for LSC in the current fiscal year. Wisconsin’s two LSC grantees, Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare would lose collectively lose approximately $189,00 in funding if the agreement is approved by Congress and signed by the President. Update: Together, Legal Action and Judicare provide basic civil legal …

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Press release on state funding for civil legal services

Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission Urges Legislature to Fund Civil Legal Services

March 31, 2011


Gregg Moore, President 715-832-7109

Jeff Brown, Staff Coordinator 608-305-4205

MADISON – The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission urges the Legislature and its Joint Committee on Finance  to maintain the state’s commitment to fund civil legal services for Wisconsin’s poorest and most vulnerable residents by restoring funding for civil legal services in the 2011-13 state budget.  Every state faces budget challenges but Wisconsin is the only state proposing a complete elimination of state funding for civil legal services at a time when the need for help with issues like foreclosure, bankruptcy, abuse, hunger and homelessness is rising.

As Commission President, Gregg Moore noted: “Funding civil legal services for the poor is part of a public/private partnership to achieve justice, and state financial support is essential.  It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that private sources – foundations, donations, attorney contributions, and volunteer lawyers – can, or should, meet the entire support needs of the civil legal services system.”

Wisconsin currently provides about $2.6 million per year in state funding for civil legal aid services for people who are unable to obtain legal assistance any other way because they have little income, are elderly, or are victims of abuse.  The current funding comes, not from tax revenues, but from the “Justice Information Surcharge” ($4.00 of that $21.50 fee). The proposed budget redirects that $4.00 to other programs, eliminating funding for civil legal services.

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Commission urges support for legal services funding

Wisconsin Access to Justice CommissionIn a letter to the Joint Committee on Finance, the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission expressed its support for restoring funding in the state budget to support civil legal services to the poor and the disadvantaged. The proposed budget would eliminate all state funding (about $2.5 million) for civil legal services, affecting thousands of our neighbors who are poor, elderly, disabled, abused, homeless, or otherwise unable to obtain legal legal assistance.

Individuals and families who are illegally evicted, who are abused, who cannot obtain child support, or who are in foreclosure will be left to fend for themselves in a legal system that they cannot effectively navigate alone. Their unmet legal needs will not vanish if the funding to help them is eliminated.  Instead, their problems will worsen or linger, court dockets will swell even further with unrepresented individuals, or their problems will need to be addressed in other, less efficient and more expensive ways.

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Annual meeting agenda

The agenda for the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission is available now. March Agenda The Commission will also be meeting with the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier in the day.

“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”

The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission’s recent adoption of statements on its Mission and Core Values comes at a turning point for Wisconsin. Together, the statements of mission, core values and essential capacities articulate how the Commission will approach the array of  proposals and challenges it faces as it works to expand access to justice in Wisconsin’s civil legal system. Formal work on these statements began at the Commission’s November board meeting and was completed earlier this …

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November 17 meeting update

Commission members met in Marquette University Law School’s beautiful new Eckstein Hall for their final meeting of 2010. The Commission received updates from its committees on proposed activities and issues that committees have identified as priorities for further work. Commission members also refined a draft statement of shared core values to guide their work on a wide range of systemic issues from legal aid funding and self-help initiatives to public education and civil right to counsel proposals. …

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