Report: Private lawyers in WI woefully underpaid for public defender work Submitted: 05/05/2015
RHINELANDER - A new report from the Sixth Amendment Center argues private lawyers don't get paid enough when doing public defense work in Wisconsin.

Ann Munninghoff, a former public defender supervisor who lives in Rhinelander, says fewer lawyers are even offering their service because many lose money doing the work.

The state is constitutionally required to provide defense for someone who can't afford it. Wisconsin pays the Wisconsin Public Defender's Office (SPD) to do that work, but they can't handle all of those cases. The group outsources overflow and conflict of interest cases, which are extremely common in small towns in the rural Northwoods.

Those private attorneys are paid $40 an hour, but Wisconsin State Public Defender Communications Director Randy Kraft says that doesn't really help much.
"That may sound like a lot, but that $40 generally doesn't cover the overhead expenses that attorney's face," Kraft said.

The overhead expenses include things like office rent, utilities, staff, accounting, research services, and business travel.

The compensation rate in Wisconsin is the lowest in the country. According to the report, it was lowered from $45 to $40 an hour in 1995. Inflation has increased by more than 100% since 1984, which means these attorneys have also faces increases costs.

The Sixth Amendment Center recommends the Wisconsin Supreme Court change its $70 compensation rate to $85 an hour. It also wants an overhead rate of $41.79, which would cover things like rent and utilities, plus a reasonable fee of $43.21.

Others have proposed a $80 compensation increase, but Munninghoff says that may not be enough.

"That would be far less than the norm, and so still it would be a hardship for local attorneys, but it would be a lot better than $40," Munninghoff said.
The state public defender's office handles 140,000 cases a year. Kraft says nearly 40 percent of those are done by private lawyers.

Munninghoff says many of the private lawyers doing public defending work are young and trying to get familiar with the court system. She says many experienced lawyers advocate for public defending work, trying to cut as many costs as possible to on their end so they can do more work.

But she says it's too much for them to handle a complex public defender case, or a lot of small one at the current compensation rate.

"The temptation to cut corners as much as possible of course is overwhelming because of that cost factor," Munninghoff said.

Kraft says an increase would certainly help the situation throughout Wisconsin. He says the SPD board has made it a priority to push for an increase to compensation rates.

"It would just increase the pool, and [it] might attract, again, even more experienced attorneys that may have, over the years, elected not to take our cases," Kraft said.

A link to the study is below.

Related Weblinks:
Public Defender Wage Study

Story By: Adam Fox

Text Size: + Increase | Decrease -
 Print Story Print Story | Email Story Email Story


PRENTICE - Almost a mile of forest and underbrush stands blackened near a Price County railroad track.

A train likely sent sparks flying into the woods as it passed through the area on Tuesday afternoon. That ignited dry grass, trees, and brush near the tracks. The fire put DNR and local firefighters in action fighting the long, narrow fire.

"We believe it was caused by a train," said the DNR's incident commander, Joe Danowski. "It spread about three-quarters of a mile along the north side of the tracks."

+ Read More

ANTIGO - Tomatoes brought in from warmer parts of the country this time of year can often be tasteless.

Some supermarkets bring those tomatoes in because most local tomatoes aren't ripe. The growing season in Wisconsin is short and some farmers are only beginning to plant tomato plants.

+ Read More

TOMAHAWK - A Northwoods city wants to be prepared for when emerald ash borer is brought to the area.

The city of Tomahawk will create a plan on what to do when the pest reaches the community. That's after it was found in Rhinelander last fall.

+ Read More

WISCONSIN - Wisconsin Public Service encourages any emergency responders to apply for its "Safety is Worth the Energy" grants. It will award 25 $2,000 grants this year.

All of WPS's service area can apply. Money is used for departments to provide special equipment or training which they otherwise wouldn't have.

"This is the second year we're offering the "Safety is Worth the Energy" grant for our local emergency responders in our service area," said WPS Community Relations Leader Leah Van Zile. "That would be fire departments, emergency rescue squads, police departments."

+ Read More

WASHINGTON, DC - A retired Northwoods doctor from Eagle River flew to Washington, DC last week. Dr. Lewis Jacobson was one of 27 World War II veterans from northcentral Wisconsin participating in the 19th Never Forgotten Honor Flight. Nearly seventy years ago, he came home from Europe. He was a young, Jewish, American soldier who spent a year and half fighting Hitler's war machine.

"I served from July of 1943 to early January of 1946, a total of about two and a half years, and 18 months was with service overseas in Europe: England, France, and Germany," Jacobson explained.

+ Read More

RHINELANDER - The man who investigators say traveled with Ashlee Martinson after she allegedly killed her mother and stepfather faces a misdemeanor for having sex with a child.

Ryan Sisco, 22, traveled with Martinson to Indiana after Martinson allegedly killed Jennifer and Thomas Ayers in their home east of Rhinelander on March 7.

According to the criminal complaint, Sisco began a relationship with Martinson, 17, between February and March of this year.

+ Read More

VILAS COUNTY - Many people enjoy exploring the Northwoods on a bicycle. The Heart of Vilas County Bike Trail spans 47 miles.

Local communities hope more people will use the trail.

+ Read More
+ More Local News

Click Here