The state Supreme Court has been asked to let poor people in civil cases have tax-funded lawyers – just like they do in criminal cases. John Ebbot with Legal Action of Wisconsin says they’ve asked the court to allow public attorneys in the most serious cases that affect a litigant’s basic human needs, including child custody and evictions. “Many of them are not choosing to come into court. They’re dragged into court as respondents in family law cases or as tenants in eviction cases,” Ebbott explained. “Oftentimes they face an opponent that has a lawyer, and they don’t have enough money to afford a lawyer.”
Ebbot likens representing one’s self in court to going into the hospital and being told to remove your own appendix. He estimates it could cost fifty to eighty million dollars a year, some of which could be funded by an already existing surcharge. Ebbot says there could savings, too, since people without lawyers tend to tie up more court time as they try to navigate through a legal system they’re totally unfamiliar with. Ebbot says it may take the Supreme Court to consider the petition, which was signed by more than twelve hundred people.