Wisconsin legislature creates access to civil legal services study committee

04/18/2016, Legislation, All Basic Human Needs

Over the past several years, advocates have urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to address the need for appointed counsel in basic human needs civil cases.  In response to these calls, the Court sent a letter to the Wisconsin Legislature in January 2016 urging it to create a legislative study committee on the issue.  The letter warned that if the Legislature chooses not to act, the Court is "under constant pressure to create more funding and, if necessary, to do so unilaterally - without the Legislature - to promote and protect due process in certain civil cases."  The letter also notes that judges are increasingly asked to appoint counsel at county expense, and that "The financial sources supporting civil legal services have proven wildly unstable. Pro bono contributions have proven inadequate. The demand for pro se legal assistance has skyrocketed."  You can read the press releases from the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Wisconsin State Bar regarding the Court's letter.

All of these calls to action finally had their effect, as in April 2016 the Wisconsin Legislature established the Study Committee on Access to Civil Legal Services.  The Committee is made up of members from the legislature, legal services, advocacy organizations, access to justice commission, courts, and private bar.  

Several members of the Committee urged it to take up the question of a right to counsel in civil cases, but ultimately the recommendations did not address that topic.



NCCRC supported the prior petitions to the Court urging it to expand access to counsel.