WI Advocates Ask High Court to Raise Defense Lawyer Pay

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Wisconsin relies on private lawyers for 40 percent of its public defense work and provides the lowest compensation of any state. Now the state is struggling to get lawyers to take those cases, NPR reports. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court will take up a petition that would give attorneys a raise. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Danielle Kaeding has more. The Wisconsin Public Defender’s Office pays private lawyers just $40 an hour to represent their clients. It’s the lowest rate in the nation, and it hasn’t changed since 1995, when lawmakers lowered it from $50 an hour.

Ashland public defender Mark Perrine says many lawyers can’t afford to do this work anymore. More than 100 lawyers, judges and officials have submitted comments to the Wisconsin Supreme Court as part of a petition to raise the court-appointed rate to $100 an hour. John Birdsall of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says if the court doesn’t take action, “Circuit courts in the state will come to a grinding halt, and people will be sitting in jail for extended periods of time. They already are. And there will be a very, very real constitutional crisis.” David Carroll of the Boston-based Sixth Amendment Center says Wisconsin’s low rate could put attorneys’ economic interests at odds with their client’s defense. He says that if “you’re going to lose more money the more you work on a case, it’s going to have a tendency to try to get the lawyer to get the person to plead (guilty) quicker.”

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