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Tuesday - June 12, 2018 9:12 pm

County committee supports higher public defender pay

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Wisconsin's hourly fee for court-appointed lawyers said to be lowest in U.S.

Forty dollars an hour might sound like a good salary to many people, but that hourly fee barely pays the bills for lawyers who are hired as public defenders for low-income clients. 

A La Crosse County committee has voted to ask state leaders to increase the public defender fee, so more attorneys will take those cases. 

La Crosse attorney Keith Belzer told the committee about one of his recent clients, who sat in the county jail for six weeks without a lawyer until her family could raise enough money to hire him. 

Belzer says after he signed on, his client was released quickly.
Circuit Judge Scott Horne says it's not unusual for some jail inmates to wait two months or more until a public defender can be found to represent them.
Horne tells the committee that the $40 rate paid to public defenders in Wisconsin is the lowest rate for that kind of work in the country. 
Many private attorneys reluctantly turn down the cases of low-income clients because the fee paid by the state doesn't cover costs.



Brad Williams

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from U-W-La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area.  Brad writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse.  He's been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.  

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