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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Just Wisconsin News for November

In this month’s Just Wisconsin newsletter, we have updates on the Legislative Council Study Committee on Access to Civil Legal Services, upcoming changes to Wisconsin Legal Advice Online, a new eviction defense project in Milwaukee and some national news highlights. The Pro Bono Honor Society is also looking for outstanding attorneys who have provided at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono legal services in 2016. One additional news item not included in the newsletter …

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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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New funding for civil legal services is on the way

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its final order requiring that at least one-half of unclaimed funds in class action settlements and judgments be directed to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation to support civil legal services to the poor. The court’s unanimous order was issued in response to Petition 15-06 filed by the Access to Justice Commission. This class action rule change takes effect on January 1, 2017. It will apply to cases filed on and after the effective date as …

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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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Supreme Court action on access to justice

Petitions_grantedOn April 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted unanimously to adopt a change proposed by the Access to Justice Commission that will result in a new source of funds for civil legal aid to the indigent in Wisconsin. The court acted following a public hearing on Petition 15-06, which was filed by the Access to Justice Commission. The rule change will direct at least 50% of unclaimed funds in state class action settlements and awards to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation to support civil legal services.

On the same day, the court also approved Petition 15-05, which was filed by the State Bar of Wisconsin, to allow lawyers to claim CLE credit for pro bono work. Registered in-house counsel will also have broader authority to do pro bono work. CLE credit for pro bono can be earned at the rate of 1 CLE credit for every 5 hours of pro bono legal services up to a maximum of 6 credits per reporting period. Attorneys will need to perform their pro bono work through a “qualified pro bono program” in order to claim the pro bono CLE credits. The court is expected to issue final orders on the two petitions in the coming months.

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Comments sought on access to justice rule petitions

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is seeking comment on two pending rule petitions that support access to justice efforts in Wisconsin. The Access to Justice Commission filed Petition 15-06 seeking a rule change that would allocate 50% of unclaimed class action awards to support civil legal services to low income persons (aka cy pres). The State Bar of Wisconsin filed Petition 15-05 proposing rule changes to allow lawyers to claim a limited amount of CLE credit for certain pro bono …

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Pro bono spotlight – Brown County free legal clinic

On the first Wednesday of every month, a group of volunteer lawyers meet at Casa ALBA Melanie in Green Bay to offer free legal advice to anyone who comes in. “We answer legal questions and direct people to agencies, attorneys or other resources that can assist them,” said Attorney Robert R. Gagan. Gagan is a partner in the law firm of Calewarts, Duffy, Gagan & Erdman and one of the clinic’s regular volunteers. He is …

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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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