Wisconsinites accused of a crime have the right to a tax funded lawyer but a proposal before the Wisconsin Supreme Court would extend that right to those to some civil cases. Justices heard public comments on the idea Monday, but it did not make a decision.

Legal Action of Wisconsin – which represents poor people in court – said it would cost an extra $ 56-million a year. The group said funding the measure is possible.

“One county spends a million dollars a year on its fairgrounds. Half of that amount would support 250 attorney appointments at $2,000 a case,” said Executive Director John Ebbott.  Ebbott emphasized he is not suggesting to strip from existing funds rather there are “pots of money” out there.

Judges could appoint public lawyers in cases that involve child custody, food, shelter, safety, and health. Those who support the measure say it would ensure fairer outcomes of cases – and it would reduce the strain on the legal system.

The justices expect to consider the proposal again at its next public conference.

AUDIO: Brian Moon reports (1:18)

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