NACDL News: Nation’s Lowest Assigned Counsel Rate: NACDL Argues for Significant Increase in Wisconsi

NACDL News The Champion June 2018

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held a hearing on May 16, 2018, concerning a petition filed last year by the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Wisconsin Association of Justice, and others, requesting that the court raise the hourly pay rate for court-appointed lawyers to $100 per hour. Specifically, petitioners sought to change “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.” As of that date, the set rate for lawyers appointed by the courts under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 81.02 was $70 per hour, while the statutory assigned counsel rate set forth in Wisconsin Statute § 977.08 was $40 per hour, the lowest in the nation. It has been the same for more than 20 years.

At that hearing on May 16, 2018, the court afforded NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer 20 minutes of argument time during which he argued on behalf of NACDL for the increase and urged the court to take bold action to address this crisis. He told the court that the eyes of the nation were on Wisconsin to see how the court addressed the problem. “The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is different from all 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. It’s withering here in Wisconsin.”

The court then issued its order on June 27, 2018. That order says the rate increase from $70 to $100 per hour for court-appointed attorneys is not effective until 2020. The court’s decision does not change the $40 statutory rate that the State Public Defender can pay.

A link to NACDL’s written comments and a video of the May 16 argument are available here and here.

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