Working Toward Justice for All


A commission appointed by the state Supreme Court is holding hearings across the state on the need to fund more legal services for people who cannot afford to defend themselves in civil court cases.

The goal of the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission is to document the need for state funds to cover the cost of lawyers for people who cannot afford to defend themselves in cases that often threaten them with eviction, the loss of their job or the custody of their children.

At a hearing in Madison Tuesday, Jefferson County Judge Bill Hue told the commission there is a serious flaw in the state justice system. Hue said, “Indigent litigants rarely are represented by counsel in civil cases and unfortunately that make indigent individuals disproportionately unlikely to prevail regardless of the merits of their case.”

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Solving that problem will cost money. John Ebbot of Legal Action Wisconsin says that has to come from state and local governments. “The counties have the money if the counties would just come up with the money and the counties can go to the state and get reimbursed”

Getting that money from the state requires bipartisan support from a divided legislature. Democratic state Rep. Terese Berceau says convincing her colleagues on the other side of the aisle will not be easy, “I think Republicans might be more likely to support programming if they felt it was evidenced-based. I think just giving more money to everybody or to Legal Action of Wisconsin is not likely to happen.”

Advocates for covering the legal costs of the indigent in civil cases say it will end up saving taxpayer dollars in the end by reducing the amount of time judges have to spend dealing with people who try to defend themselves.