Washington, D.C. (May 16, 2018) – As revealed in a March 2013 report from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) – Gideon at 50, Part I – Rationing Justice: The Underfunding of Assigned Counsel Systems – Wisconsin has long had the lowest statutory assigned counsel rate in the nation at $40 per hour. That is the rate paid to court-assigned counsel to represent criminally accused persons in Wisconsin who cannot afford a lawyer. This rate is set forth in the Wisconsin Statutes §977.08 and has been the same for more than 20 years.
In May of 2017, the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Wisconsin Association of Justice, and others, filed a Petition to Amend Supreme Court Rule 81.02 seeking to “chang[e] the hourly rate of compensation for court-appointed lawyers to $100/hour, indexing that rate to annual cost of living increases, and specifying that the payment of an hourly rate less than the rate set forth in Supreme Court Rule 81.02 for legal services rendered pursuant to appointment by the State Public Defender under Wisconsin Statutes section 977.08 is unreasonable.” Currently, the set rate for lawyers appointed by the courts under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 81.02 is currently $70 per hour.
After accepting public comments, including comments from NACDL, this morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held a hearing concerning Rule Petition 17-06, “Compensation for Court Appointed Attorneys.” At that hearing, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer argued on behalf of NACDL for this increase and urged the Court to take bold action to address this crisis. He told the Court that the eyes of the nation are on Wisconsin to see how this Court addresses the problem. “The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is different from all of our other fundamental rights – it’s not self-actuating,” said Reimer. “The Sixth Amendment right is nothing if it’s not funded. It withers and it dies. And it’s withering here in Wisconsin.”
NACDL’s written comments detail how (i) the courts have the obligation to protect and enforce the constitutional right to the assistance of counsel and have the authority to act to assure this constitutional mandate is met, (ii) the Sixth Amendment right to counsel means more than a warm body with a bar card to appear with an accused, it requires an effective advocate, (iii) the cost of the state’s obligation to provide constitutionally required counsel cannot be placed on the backs of the counties or the private bar, and (iv) the consequences of low pay for court-appointed counsel is delay in the criminal justice system, and justice delayed is justice denied.
Video of this morning’s argument was broadcast live, and is expected to be available, at http://www.wiseye.org/. In addition, all pleadings and submissions in this matter before the Wisconsin Supreme Court are available at https://www.wicourts.gov/scrules/1706.htm.
To learn more about NACDL’s extensive work in the public defense arena, please visit www.nacdl.org/publicdefense.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.