After repeated warnings from stakeholders in the justice system, including the Supreme Court, Wisconsin has been hit with a federal class-action lawsuit over long delays in appointing lawyers for poor defendants in rural areas, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Six people facing charges in Ashland and Bayfield counties say the state has violated their rights — and the rights of hundreds of others — by failing to adequately fund and administer a program to provide them legal counsel.
“The system for indigent defense in Wisconsin has reached a state of crisis,” the lawsuit states.
The problem has been festering for years as more and more private lawyers decline to take appointments from the State Public Defender at the lowest-in-the-nation rate of $40 an hour, payments they say don’t even cover their overhead costs.
“Talking about it just wasn’t solving the problem, so we decided to step up,” said Craig Haukaas, the former district attorney in Ashland County, who with his law partner T. Blake Gross, is representing the six plaintiffs, told the Journal.
“We would hope virtually everyone in the state would support this. It affects everyone,” he said.