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Notes from the bench

Hon. Thomas Hruz, Wisconsin Court of Appeal, District 3;
Access to Justice Commission Member

Judge Hruz

The importance of suitable civil legal representation in Wisconsin cannot be understated. Indeed, it improves our civil justice system in a number of important ways. These include, among many others, providing all litigants with the impression that they were given a “fair shot” and were properly heard on the merits, enabling judges to correctly and efficiently resolve the cases before them.

Unlike circuit court judges—who have the unenviable task of working with pro se litigants in numerous contexts while cases are actually developing—we intermediate appellate court judges have the vantage point of concluded trial court litigation. All too often, it is clear “from the record” that, despite the best efforts of the trial judge and even sometimes opposing counsel, the unrepresented civil litigant fails woefully to represent his or her best interests. Such an outcome is only natural for individuals who, whatever their background, are not armed with years of learning substantive law, much less know how to properly and effectively conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise prosecute a case. This deficiency is especially true with certain subject matters, such as family law—including child support and custody cases—employment disputes, and landlord-tenant cases.

To be sure, there is only so much we can do. But the more we remain cognizant of these important concerns, the better off our justice system will be.