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ATJ commission may get lower-than-expected boost from fee increase

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//February 10, 2015

ATJ commission may get lower-than-expected boost from fee increase

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//February 10, 2015

The recently increased pro hac vice fee will keep the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission Inc. afloat, but so far commission President Jim Gramling said it looks like the group will net less than expected.

The commission had projected that the money from the fee increase would generate about $40,000 a year, but it appears that may be closer to $30,000, he said.

However, he said Monday the commission has no idea if the number of accepted applications to appear pro hac vice are higher during certain times of the year.

“It’s a new source of funding that’s very welcome for the commission,” Gramling said. “… It was a joyous day when the Supreme Court decided to increase the fee.”

The state Supreme Court approved the fee increase May 27 from $50 to $250 and gave the ATJ commission $50 per application. Pro hac vice fees are what out-of-state attorneys pay to handle cases in Wisconsin.

Since it was created in 2009, the ATJ commission has been paid for through a $300,000 State Bar reserve, which was supposed to last three years. The commission has made it last nearly twice as long because expenses have been lower, Gramling said.

The money from the pro hac vice fees, he said, will replace that reserve, which is expected to run out in July.

Gramling said the commission would like to increase its staff, but that would require a more significant increase in money. And that money won’t come from the state. The past three biennial budgets, including Gov. Scott Walker’s most recent budget proposal, have not included money for the ATJ commission, which advocates for civil legal services to the poor.

“We’re still optimistic that the Legislature will see fit to insert funding in the budget,” Gramling said, “Failing that, Wisconsin will be one of only three states that doesn’t have funding for civil legal aid.”

According to an email attributed to Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick, state civil legal services receive federal money, money from interest on attorneys’ trust accounts, and money from a public interest legal services fund. There are also many additional sources of revenue for indigent criminal legal services, according to the email.

Walker’s proposed budget instead focuses on protecting children, and continuing to expand care and centers for domestic violence victims and their children, according to Patrick.

Gramling said the commission is still optimistic that it will develop other sources of support, but a primary concern in finding those sources is that they do not compete with other legal aid providers in the state.

“It’s just not a priority of state spending for the administration,” he said, “and that means we simply have to make the case in a stronger way.”

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