The Joint Finance Committee's recommendation to increase the pay of private lawyers representing indigent clients is a good first step but more needs to be done, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said Wednesday.
"The $70 per hour recommended by Joint Finance is much better than the $40 the private lawyers are getting now, but it's still not enough," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said. "The amount, at minimum, should be indexed to inflation."
The $40 rate is the lowest in the nation, and is not enough to cover the average lawyer's overhead.
The State Public Defender's Office appoints lawyers when its own caseload is too great, or when it has a conflict. Lawyers are increasingly refusing to take those SPD appointments because the low pay means they lose money on the cases. The situation is especially dire in rural counties, where defendants in criminal cases can sit in jail for extended periods because SPD cannot find lawyers to represent them.
The proposed increase would be the first in decades, and it is entirely possible that without indexing, it will be another several decades before private lawyers see another pay bump, Schuldt said.
"We applaud what Joint Finance did," Schuldt said. "Just not as loudly as we would like."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old, was sentenced to life in prison, and spent 31 years there for a crime he said he did not commit. This is part 2 of James' story. Part 1 is here.
Alphonso James was arrested two hours after the body of Delbert Pascavis was found and about 30 minutes after a man described by his neighbors as mentally unbalanced identified James as the killer.
James remembers the moment well.
"It was 11 o’clock in the morning," he said. "It was hot outside, my mother was in the kitchen cooking, and then, lo and behold, the police just pulled up in front of our house."
They took him into custody.
The next time he was free was 32 years later.
He thought at first his arrest was related to a fight he had with a friend. There was a juvenile arrest warrant out for him related to that incident, and James quickly admitted to his involvement in the stabbing.
At the police station, James said, he still wasn't aware he was in trouble for a murder.
Officers came into the interrogation room "and they would come in and asked me to remove clothes," he said in an interview. "They would get a flashlight and go over my body to see if there were any recent marks or bites and they didn't find anything. So finally they told me 'Well, we'll be right back.' So they removed all of my clothing and left me in the room with nothing."
During James' trial, police denied leaving him naked and said they brought him a change of clothing.
Eventually, James said, "They were questioning me about a murder. I said, ‘Well, I have no idea about a murder' and I told them the truth from day one. They asked me where I was at; I told them everything."
James was the main suspect in a murder because of a phone call to police from a 33-year-old man who dressed in western clothing and was known as "a person who spends a lot of time talking with the kids and is described as 'crazy,'" according to a police report.
"It should be noted that at the time I talked to (the man) he was wearing some type of western chaps that appeared to be vinyl and were black and red in color," an officer said in the report.
The man told police that two children told him that Alphonso James killed the "old man," meaning Pascavis.
An officer spoke to the father of those children and to other children and residents of the neighborhood. "I was unable to find any children in the area that would admit to speaking with (the man) this date relative to the allegations that Alphonzo (sic) James was the person responsible for killing the 'old man,' " the officer wrote.
That same day, another officer identified residents he believed could be capable of a crime like Pascavis' murder. The officer identified two brothers who lived a few doors away from Pascavis' home on N. Booth St. One of the brothers, according to a separate report, had hung out with Pascavis.
But James already was in custody.
Next: Who was Delbert Pascavis?
*Photo courtesy of Hupy & Abraham.
Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old. He says he didn't do it, and there are serious, serious questions about the case.
There is no question, though, that James was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
He actually spent 31 years there. He was sentenced in February 1986, when he was a very young man; he was paroled in February 2017, no longer so young and still insisting he did not kill anyone.
Today he is engaged to be married, he is working, and he is contributing to the community. He is especially involved in working to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to successfully return to the community.
So who deserves second chances? Alphonso James, sentenced to life, made it out of prison, at least part way. Because he is on parole, he remains under the tight control of the state.
Others sentenced to life as children, now in their thirties are forties, are still behind bars. Some may never get out, no matter what they do or how much they have changed since their arrests.
Innocent or not.
The price of phone calls from state prisons will fall from 50 percent to 67 percent this summer, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections announced in a memo Tuesday.
Rates will fall from 12 cents per minute for in-state calls and 18 cents per minute for out-of-state calls to a flat rate of 6 cents per minute, Division of Adult Institutions Administrator Makda Fessahaye wrote.
The text of the memo, as provided to WJI:
The DOC is implementing a new telephone system. Oakhill and WCCS (Wisconsin Correctional Center System) will make the change during the week of June 3rd to assure stability of the system. After approx. 30 days the other facilities will be converted. Additional info and advertisements will be shared as transition dates approach. The list below is all inclusive, but provides some notable changes.
• Rates will reduce from 12¢ a min for in state and 18¢ a min for out of state calls to a 6¢ a min flat rate. Rate changes will take effect when all sites are converted, ensuring all callers are paying the same rates.
• The new system allows inmates to fund their own CenturyLink calling accounts to make outgoing calls. Money will no longer be sent to friends and family for calling accounts. Additional info will be sent regarding this process.
• Family and friends are not required to have an account with the new system, unless they wish to accept collect calls. Family and friends may establish a new account with CenturyLink beginning May 27. That can be done online at icsolutions.com or over the phone at 1-888-506-8407 or with a cashier's check or money order through the mail at Centurylink/ICSolutions, attn: Customer Service, 2200 Danbury St., San Antonio, TX 78217.
• Family and friends who currently have Corrlinks accts should plan accordingly. Requests for a refund can take 2-3 weeks to process. Refunds from Securus can be requested at 1-800-844-6591 or online at securus.net by choosing Manage Account and then Close Account.
• Current accounts will not work after conversion occurs.
• International calls can be made on the new system using the day room phone as long as funds are available on the CenturyLink calling acct.
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative has asked the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to undertake a full review of the city's police pursuit policy that has resulted in an increasing number of dangerous pursuits and accidents.
"We know that police chases are dangerous, and we know that they have not made Milwaukee streets safer," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said in testimony prepared for the commission meeting last week. "While it is good news the number of fatal crashes was down last year, the overall number of crashes was up, as was the number of crashes with injuries. Also up, the number of crashes involving speeding, failure to yield, inattentive driving, and disregarding traffic controls. Hit-and-run crashes also increased. These numbers are not indicative of a successful policy."
WJI reported last month that the number of police chases increased 155 percent from 2017 to 2018, the result of a deliberate loosening of restrictions on when officers can pursue fleeing suspects. Chase-related injuries also were up sharply. Two-thirds of chases resulted from traffic offenses, not serious crimes.
Commissioners said they would hold further discussions on the pursuit policy and would announce the dates of those discussions later.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative and the American Constitution Society Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter are teaming up to refresh WJI's Pot Page with court data from across the state.
WJI, in a previous version of the page, examined felony marijuana cases – possession of marijuana, second offense or greater – in Milwaukee County. That project pretty clearly illustrated that African-American men on the North Side of Milwaukee are disproportionately charged with that crime.
The new page already is uncovering some interesting information. In Milwaukee County, for example, there was one marijuana case filed last year for every 3,292 residents; in the much smaller Ashland County, at the top of the state, there was one marijuana case filed for every 371 residents. In other words, Ashland County law enforcement is much more aggressive in prosecuting marijuana crimes when population is factored in.
Surprisingly, there were just as many women charged – 15 – in Ashland County as there were in Milwaukee County. Those women accounted for 36 percent of the 42 Ashland County cases, but just five percent of the 288 Milwaukee County cases.
Follow along as we look at data from all 72 counties.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The City of Milwaukee, just five months into the year, already is in borrowing mode to pay off court settlements related to police conduct, a financing strategy that increases costs for taxpayers and leaves them with nothing to show for their money.
The city will borrow $2 million to pay the family of a man who died in the back of a squad car, and will borrow another $2.3 million to pay the family of a man who died in jail of an epileptic seizure about 18 hours after telling police he did not have his regular dose of anti-seizure medicine, according to city documents and Budget and Management Director Dennis Yaccarino.
Interest alone could add a million dollars or more to the total price tag over the life of the bonds, depending on their longevity and interest rates.
Ideally, state and local governments use bonds to pay for large capital projects that are expected to last a long time, like roads, bridges, and schools. Borrowing for these types of projects allows governments to spread the costs over decades to ensure that future beneficiaries of the projects share in the costs.
Borrowing for police-related settlements, however, is on the increase not only in Milwaukee, but across the country.
Here, Yaccarino said, "It is a challenge to continue to budget core city services with no growth in revenues and have no ability to set up a funding mechanism for court settlements that eliminates borrowing without impacting those core services."
The city traditionally has relied on a $5 million contingent fund to pay settlements that exceeded the amount budgeted for them, he said.
This year, though, Yaccarino said, snow and ice removal costs are running $4.3 million over budget, melting away much of the contingent fund.
The city's uncomfortable position is not unique to 2019. Budget figures show it is now common for the city to pay out more in damages and claims than the total $5 million budgeted in the contingent fund.
Last year, the city borrowed $6.2 million to cover damages and claims like the police-related lawsuits it needs to borrow for now, according to city bonding documents.
The indictment filed by Milwaukee Ald. Willie Wade, charged in federal court with three counts of wire fraud, is below.
It concerns an alleged fake bribery scheme cooked up by Wade.
That alleged fake scheme, had it been real and had Wade routed the money through some sort of political action committee or campaign fund, might be called "lobbying."
Victoriano Heredia was 17 years old in 1997 when he participated in a restaurant robbery that turned into a homicide.
The victim's name was Charles B. Counsell. He was popular and active in Marshall. He was mourned deeply by many.
Heredia was not the leader in planning or carrying out the crime, and he did not kill Counsell himself. He was there, though, he participated in the robbery, and he helped with an unsuccessful effort to move Counsell's body up a flight of stairs.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, party to a crime and in January 1998 was sentenced by Dane County Circuit Judge Patrick J. Fiedler to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 13 years.
"I don't pretend to be omniscient, but based upon everything I know about you, I am satisfied today that I don't think you will ever commit another crime of this nature again. ... I don't think we should give up on you just yet," Fiedler said.
Heredia has been in prison now for 21 years. He is 39 years old, more than twice as old as he was when he was convicted.
He is a plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit challenging life sentences for juveniles. The plaintiffs are not denying their crimes. They are not contesting their convictions.
They are asking for a true shot at parole.
"Currently, Wisconsin prisons hold 127 men serving life sentences for homicides committed when they were under 18 years old." – From "Juvenile Lifers: Reforming Extreme Sentences." Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.
The wrong ticket can add you to a criminal database, hurt employment and housing prospects
By Gretchen Schuldt
Getting a ticket instead of being charged with a crime might seem like a lucky break, but that ticket can get you added to a criminal database and ultimately hurt future job and housing opportunities, according to Kori Ashley, staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
If that ticket is accompanied by arrest and fingerprinting the information can go – and sometimes must go – to the State Department of Justice and become part of a Crime Information Bureau criminal background report provided to anyone who asks for it and pays $7, Ashley said.
"I would say to never ignore the ticket," said Ashley, who represents indigent defendants in Milwaukee Municipal Court. "I would treat this ticket just like I would treat a criminal summons I received in the mail because ultimately, if you have been fingerprinted, it will show up on your background report, just like a criminal arrest and charge."
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