For more than 20 years, Wisconsin’s public defender office has asked the legislature for a raise.
But, if they’re hoping to get it to take public defender cases, they may have to wait until the next budget cycle.
Onalaska Assemblyman Steve Doyle practices law in La Crosse, and he’s hoping some progress is made soon. Doyle said more lawyers are avoiding public defender work because of the low $40-an-hour rate, which is the lowest in the U.S.
“They’re having a real hard time finding attorneys who are willing to take cases who are anything other than fresh out of law school,” Doyle said.
The lack of public defenders poses bigger problems in the courts.
“Cases are just sitting and it’s slowing down the whole courts system,” Doyle said. “People are sitting in jail. People are waiting for trail. They can’t have a trial because they don’t have an attorney.
“The few attorneys that do the cases are driving all over the state to do the work.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will have a hearing about raising the compensation for public defender work to $100 an hour. That hearing won’t be until May.
Doyle said a fee increase didn’t make it into the most recent budget but he wants to see it discussed in the next budget cycle.