Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a bill that would pay up to $20,000 annually toward attorneys’ school loans, providing they practice in remotely populated areas of the state and take court-appointed cases.
The bill proposes that lawyers would need to have a practice in a county with fewer than 25,000 residents, or demonstrate that most of their work is done in such counties, the Journal Sentinel reports. There are 26 counties statewide that meet the requirement.
Appointments to state court matters in Wisconsin only pay $40 an hour, and attorneys with more established law practices say they lose money with the work. The rate for Wisconsin court-appointed lawyers is set by the state supreme court, and hasn’t been raised since 1992, despite efforts from the state bar and the public defender’s office.
Also, it’s harder to find attorneys for court appointments in rural areas. Kelli Thompson, the state public defender, told the newspaper that sometimes it can take 100 phone calls to find an attorney who will represent an indigent defendant. Some who take the work travel up to five hours to see clients, she notes.
The loan payback bill is sponsored by Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), who has a law practice in Appleton, and Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point).