Bar Association Looks to Address Legal Assistance Budget Cuts


The Wisconsin Bar Association is kicking off a series of seminars on finding free legal assistance in Green Bay Tuesday night. The state legislature cut funding for much legal help for low income people.

$2.5 million in legal assistance was eliminated from the latest state budget. At the same time a commission was formed by the state Supreme Court, called the “Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission.”

It’s made up of 13 lawyers. One of them is Maury Rice, the commission’s coordinator for pro bono assistance, legalese for “free help.”

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He says there are a number of scattered local places where people can find free legal help, mostly at the county or regional level. But Rice says Wisconsin is one of the only states that does not provide general funding for civil cases,“There’s only two states in the country that don’t provide some help and Wisconsin is one of them. In light of preening the $2.5 million, Minnesota for instance is well over $10 million dollars they provide.”

Public Defenders are only available for low income people who are facing jail time, not cases like disability claims or child support.

Rice says all lawyers contribute to a trust fund each year designed to provide legal aid, but that the economy has hit the interest rate so the annual funding has taken a hit, “You can interview them for a half hour and how they might navigate this problem. But you really haven’t got an attorney that can actually go to court with them.”

The bar is hosting its first of six hearings on the issue in Green Bay. Another five are scheduled around the state, the next being in Eau Claire on July 30th.