The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently cleared from its rules-proposal docket a long-pending request calling on the court to expand judges’ ability to appoint counsel for indigent parties in civil cases.
The proposal asked the court to set aside money in its budget for an “Appointment of Counsel Pilot Project” for indigent litigants in certain categories of civil cases. It also asked the court to adopt a new supreme court rule requiring judges to appoint counsel at taxpayers’ expense for certain indigent civil litigants.
The rules-change proposal was filed in 2013 by John Ebbott, then-executive director of Legal Action of Wisconsin and Thomas Cannon, then-executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee.
The court decided in 2014 to ask the Legislative Council to convene a study committee to suggest ways to improve access to civil legal services. Such a committee eventually met from July 2016 to February 2017. Three bills resulted from the committee’s work and were introduced in the 2017-2018 legislative session. But the Legislature did not adopt them.
The justices voted on Sept. 6 in a closed conference to dismiss the petition and issued an order on Sept. 7 explaining that they had done so because the Legislative Council study committee had finished its work.
This is not the first time the matter was before the court. A similar petition was filed in 2008, but the court denied it in 2012 after a public hearing and various discussions.