By Gretchen Schuldt
The inclusion of the simple, humble comma won out-of-state consumers and the state itself an important victory from the state Court of Appeals last week when the court ruled that a law prohibiting fraudulent representations applied to ads and information shown to people outside of Wisconsin.
The statute, §100.18(1), lays out who cannot do certain things and what they cannot do when trying to get members of the public to buy goods or services. Specifically, the statute says individuals and firms may not "publish, disseminate, circulate, or place before the public, or cause, directly or indirectly, to be made, published, disseminated, circulated, or placed before the public, in this state..." ads or information that include false representations.
The verbs in the statute focus on the advertiser's conduct, not the consumer's, Appellate Judge M. Joseph Donald wrote for the panel.
"After a comma, the statute provides that these actions may not take place 'in this state,' " he said. "The statute does not proscribe where the recipient or consumer must be or reside. Thus, based on the plain language of the statute, we conclude that the state can enforce against Wisconsin businesses that reach consumers outside of the state."
"There is a comma that separates the phrase 'before the public' and 'in this state.' If 'in this state' modified 'before the public,' then there would be no need for a comma," he wrote.
The opinion, joined by Appellate Judges William W. Brash III and Maxine A. White, overturned a ruling by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Sosnay. The panel ordered a new trial.
The case arose out of allegedly deceptive advertising practices by Midwest Auto Recycling and a number of related entities, referred to collectively in the opinion as "Midwest."
The firm relied heavily on the internet for its sales, Donald wrote. "To expand the business, Midwest Auto Recycling created various websites and companies...to advertise and sell the auto parts to people and businesses throughout the United States."
Those companies are also named as respondents in the case and include Remanns LLC; Quality Used Engines, LLC; Engine Recycler, LLC; Quality Used Transmissions, LLC; Engine Shopper, LLC; Engine & Transmission World, LLC; Belden Mfg, LLC; APLS Acquisition, LLC; SW Engines, LLC; SW Transmissions, LLC; and U Need Engines, LLC. Several unnamed managers of those entities also were named.
The state received hundreds of complaints about the business and sued Midwest in 2017, alleging that the company had committed fraudulent misrepresentations in marketing and selling; fraudulent misrepresentations regarding where their business was located; and unfair billing practices.
As litigation advanced, the state said it wanted to call three out-of-state customers as witnesses to testify "regarding how the engines they received did not match up with the representations that had been made," Donald wrote.
Sosnay ruled that evidence about “incidents that occurred outside Wisconsin, meaning dealing with residents of other states, is not admissible.” He also ruled the state would have to show that any Wisconsin resident who was a customer of Midwest would have had a monetary loss.
Just one in-state customer testified, along with some people associated with Midwest.
The jury found that four Midwest websites misrepresented the business locations but also found that advertisements to Wisconsin consumers were not untrue, deceptive, or misleading, and that representations in sales quotes were not untrue, deceptive, or misleading in relevant respects.
In rejecting Sosnay's interpretation of the law, Donald wrote for the panel: "As the state asserts, all Wisconsin businesses must do to comply with the law is refrain from making misrepresentations in their advertising. If Midwest has to follow the law for in-state residents, there should be no issue following the law for out-of-state residents given that both view the same websites. ... The circuit court erred when it prohibited the state from introducing evidence that Midwest made misrepresentations reaching consumers outside Wisconsin"
The appellate panel also found that the state did not have to show pecuniary loss. The state brought the suit under a statute that does not request such a showing, Donald wrote.
By Alexandria Staubach
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the phenomenon of lonely deaths in nursing homes and hospitals, but such lonely deaths continue in the Wisconsin prison system even post-pandemic.
In the Wisconsin prison system, a terminal-illness diagnosis lands an imprisoned individual in Dodge Correctional Institution (DCI). While DCI principally serves as the reception center for all adult males entering the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) system, it also serves as the central medical unit for the male DOC population. It is where sentences begin and where life may end.
Removal to DCI for terminal-illness care breaks bonds of friendship between incarcerated individuals that formed over years or even decades.
“Once that person goes to DCI you know you may not ever see or talk to them again. You may not ever find out what happens to them,” said Roy Rogers, a former juvenile lifer in the Wisconsin prison system. (Rogers is now a data processor, a preentry and reentry liaison for The Community, and a WJI board member.)
WJI inquired whether DOC permits video or any other form of visitation between terminally ill incarcerated persons and their incarcerated friends.
“Wisconsin DOC has never allowed a person in our care to be on another person in our care’s visiting list,” John Beard, director of communications for the DOC, told WJI.
“Dodge Correctional Institution is one of our institutions which has trained certified peer specialists within the population. So, if an individual requests peer support, they would have access to another person in our care who is trained to provide that,” Beard said.
In other words, those who spend their last days as residents of the DCI infirmary have the companionship of staff or volunteers whom they do not know, but not of their friends from within the DOC.
While incarcerated individuals may receive visitation with friends and family who are not incarcerated, the relationships formed between incarcerated persons are often their main relationships, said Rogers.
Though in-person, peer-to-peer visitation among incarcerated individuals may not practically be feasible, DOC is equipped to and offers video visitation, according to its visitation policy. However, per Beard’s response to WJI, because the DOC does not permit persons in its care to be on each other’s visitation lists, the DOC does not permit video visits between individuals who are both incarcerated.
Nearly 20% of the U.S. prison population is older than age 50 according to June 2023 Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics. Of the 21,171 persons incarcerated in the DOC as of May 31, 2023, nearly 24% were older than 50, including 46 individuals 80 or older.
DCI’s infirmary unit holds 60 beds, with seven rooms dedicated to palliative care. According to the DOC, “a number” of incarcerated patients are residents of this infirmary. In June 2022 the oldest person incarcerated at DCI was 98 years old.
The infirmary unit provides care to patients who require 24-hour or subacute nursing care. The palliative care program provides “a valuable service to patients with terminal illnesses, providing comfort and symptom management, when release to the community is not possible,” according to DCI’s 2022 Annual Report.
By Gretchen Schuldt
A chart showing the sponsors of these two measures is at the bottom of this post.
SB309/AB310 — Revocation of supervision, expunction
A Republican proposal to strip the presumption of innocence from anyone on community supervision and incarcerate thousands of people has been introduced again, carrying a price tag that dwarfs that of the 2021 version of the bill.
The bill also would tighten rules on expunction.
The new bill, Senate Bill 309/Assembly Bill 310, would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revocation of community supervision of anyone on probation, parole, or extended supervision who is charged with any new crime. Not convicted — just charged.
Enactment of the bill would permanently add an estimated 4,673 individuals to the prison population, according to Department of Corrections' fiscal estimates for both the 2021 and 2023 bills. The 2023 estimate says the cost of those additional incarcerated individuals would be $209 million per year when the bill's full impact is felt. Those figures are based on a 2022 average annual per-incarcerated-person cost of $44,400.
The 2021 cost estimate projected increased operational expenditures of $171 million annually when the measure was fully implemented. Those estimates were based on a 2020 per-incarcerated-person cost of $36,200. The 2023 full-implementation operational cost estimate is $38 million, or 22%, higher than the 2021 estimate.
Both the 2021 and 2023 fiscal estimates say the bill would require the construction of two new prisons. The 2021 estimate put the cost of a new 2,000-bed, medium-security prison at $450 million to $550 million; the new fiscal estimate puts the cost at $687 million to $839 million.
The new high-end construction estimate is $289 million, or 53%, more than the 2021 high-end figure.
Both bills were based on the same assumptions. DOC estimated in each that there would be an additional 6,280 revocation cases per year and 47% of the recommendations would be ratified by the Department of Administration's Division of Hearings and Appeals, which reviews and decides such cases.
The estimate assumes that each additional revocation would result in 19 months in prison.
The Hearings and Appeals Division now affirms about 87% of revocation recommendations and the average time served for those is 39 months. DOC said it is likely that a smaller percentage of revocation recommendations would be affirmed if the agency must try to revoke everyone accused of a crime. DOC said it now uses several factors to determine whether revocation is appropriate.
The bill also would make expunction harder for some to achieve. Currently, a record is not expunged until a person has completed the court-imposed sentence. A person has not completed a sentence if convicted of a subsequent crime or if probation was revoked and the person has not satisfied all the conditions of probation, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau summary of the bill. Under the proposed measure, a sentence would not be completed if criminal charges are pending against the person or if the person violated any rule or condition of probation or at least a year has not passed since being put on probation.
The ACLU of Wisconsin has registered against the bill. No organization or individual has registered in favor.
SB291/AB300 — Protections for election workers
Battery against an election worker would be a felony punishable by up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine, under a bill pending in the state Legislature.
"It is true that Wisconsin already has strict criminal laws regarding assault and battery, and some may say that there is no need to specify that it is a crime to commit these acts against an election worker," State Rep. Joy Goeden (R-Hobart) said at a public hearing last month.
She and co-author State Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere), however, believe "it is necessary to make this purposeful declaration: if you punch someone it’s a crime and yes, it is the same crime if you punch an election worker who is just doing his or her job," Goeden said. "Don’t do it."
Currently, state law classifies battery as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the harm caused and the identity of the target. In the latter case, for example, battery is a felony if the victim is a public officer and if the battery is designed to influence an official action or in retaliation for such an action, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau. Under the bill, any battery against an election worker of official would be a felony.
The bill also would provide some other protections. It would prohibit public access to personally identifiable information of election workers and officials, except for the names of the city and state where an election worker lives. The bill also would give whistleblower protection to municipal clerks, county clerks, and election officials who witness and report election fraud or irregularities and would prohibit discipline against those workers for reporting what they reasonably believed to be election fraud or irregularities.
While Brown County Clerk Patrick Moynihan Jr. said in testimony before the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee that the whistleblower provisions "provide reasonable assurances against any potential unlawful retribution," Protect Democracy Policy Advocate and Counsel Edgar Lin (full disclosure: Lin is a WJI Board member) raised several issues.
The term "lawfully report" section, he said, should have included a process for doing so. The reporting structure is not defined in the bill, nor are deadlines set for reporting or investigating alleged irregularities.
"What happens if a disgruntled employee weaponizes this protection by making a false or frivolous disclosure?" Lin asked. "Will they be required to pay attorneys fees and costs? Or even damages? What are the remedies if the employer was found liable for retaliatory action against a whistleblower?"
"Without a clear process, a whistleblower event — regardless of merit — could descend into chaotic litigation, which could further undermine the confidence in our election system," he said.
The word "irregularity" also needs to be better defined, he said.
" 'Irregularities' is too broad without a concrete definition," he said. "It may inadvertently catch benign events that may technically be an irregularity. For example, if the post office takes a small chunk out of an absentee ballot during their handling and without any evidence of actual ballot tampering, should that be counted as an “irregularity”?
"Instead of 'irregularities' ... the bad act should be grounded by existing laws, rules, regulation, and/or guidance," he said.
The League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin have registered in favor of the bill. No organization or person has registered against it.
"Evers' judges" is our effort to present information about Gov. Tony Evers' appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications.
Italics indicate direct quotes from the application. Typos, including punctuation errors, come from the original application even though we have not inserted “(sic)” after each one. WJI has left them as is.
Name: Frederick J. Strampe
Appointed to: Waukesha County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Nov. 29, 2022 (to term ending July 31, 2023) (defeated in April 2023 election)
Law School – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Undergraduate – United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
High School – Wausau East, Wausau, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
1997-present – Attorney, Borgelt, Powell, Peterson and Frauen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Bar and administrative memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
General character of practice:
My practice is focused on civil litigation. I appear in Circuit Courts throughout Wisconsin and the Eastern and Western District Courts. I handle all phases of civil litigation from the initial pleading through trial. The majority of my time is spent on investigations, depositions, document analysis, discovery, settlement discussions and pre-trial motions. My legal specialty is trial practice. I average one or two trials a year. I have extensive experience with claims at assisted living facilities, insurance coverage issues and product liability claims, along with most types of personal injury cases, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injuries.
Describe typical clients:
Most of my work is for defendants in civil litigation. Usually, I am retained by an insurance company to represent their insured in a lawsuit, or a pre-suit investigation. I represent clients regarding all types of insurance policies and have developed a specialty relating to assisted living facilities and traumatic brain injuries allegedly caused by exposure to Carbon Monoxide.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 19
List up to three significant trials, appeals, or other legal matters in which you participated as a judge or lawyer in the past seven years:
Local Government Property Insurance Fund (“LGPIF”) v. Lexington Insurance Company
I represented LGPIF. This case involved a fire that occurred at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in July of 2013. LGPIF insured Milwaukee County and determined that the fire was a covered loss. LGPIF paid over 17.4 million dollars for this loss and sought to recover a portion of this amount from its reinsurer, Lexington. Lexington refused to pay the loss claiming the damages were the result of an electrical failure, which was not a covered loss. LGPIF filed suit to recover the reinsurance benefits contained in the insurance policy issued by Lexington. Along with Co-counsel Barbara O’Brien, I was responsible for all written discovery, expert retention, depositions, and pre-trial motions. My involvement focused on the damages sustained at the courthouse and the competing expert opinions regarding the cause of the loss and the resulting damage. The matter settled just before trial.
Holder et. al. v. Fraser Shipyards
I represented Capstan Corporation, the owner of Fraser Shipyards. This matter involved four related cases with 70 plaintiffs. All the plaintiffs were shipyard workers at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, WI. They were exposed to hazardous levels of lead while preforming work on the HERBERT C. JACKSON, a great lakes freighter owned by Interlake Steamship Company. While each worker had different alleged injuries, most of the workers claimed traumatic brain injuries resulting in memory and processing problems, along with some physical injuries from the lead exposure. Plaintiffs claimed that Fraser Shipyard, Capstan and Interlake knew that lead paint on the vessel would be disturbed by Fraser's work and took no preventative measures to protect the workers. I took over the representation of Capstan a few months before the Holder case was set for trial. I was responsible for investigating the loss, written discovery, depositions, expert retention, procedural motions, discovery motions, motions in limine and pre-trial submissions. The Holden case settled less than one week before trial was set to begin. The other three cases settled after significant discovery.
[Redacted] v. Mortle
I represented Mortle Trucking. Mortle performed snow and ice removal services at the clinic where [redacted] Doctor worked. [Redacted] slipped and fell in the clinic's parking lot after a snow event. She sued Mortle and the property owners claiming that the parking lot was negligently maintained. [Redacted] claimed significant back injuries from the fall. She had over [redacted] in past medicare expenses and claimed over [redacted] for future medical expenses. Additionally, [she] had a 20 year history of back issues. In December, 2021, the case was tried by Judge Chris Foley in Milwaukee County. After a five day trial, the jury concluded that Mortle was not negligent.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
As part of my work for Assisted Living Facilities and Day Care providers, I have handled several cases involving the Division of Hearings and Appeals. These appeals involved orders to close a facility, revocation of licensing, need for a plan of correction, and requests to reduce fines. I have participated in pre-hearings and scheduling/status conferences with Administrative Law Judges.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
I have mediated hundreds of cases all over the State of Wisconsin. I have represented parties in arbitrations approximately 15-20 times. Also, I have been appointed by the defense as an Arbitrator approximately 10 times. None of these cases proceeded to a full arbitration.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: N/A
Previous runs for public office: N/A
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years: None that I remember
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Wisconsin Defense Counsel, past president and other roles, 1997-present
Defense Research Institute, 1998-present
American Board of Trial Advocates, 2014-present
Lakeland Officials Association, program chair-football, 1997-present
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
I have officiated High School Football since law school. I have been the crew's Referee for approximately 14 years. We officiate a Varsity High School game every Friday night during the season. Each season we are selected by the WIAA to officiate one or more playoff games. We were selected to officiate two State Championship games at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. Occasionally, I officiate Youth Football in the community.
In law school I also officiated ice hockey. When I moved to Milwaukee, I continued officiating Youth and High School Ice Hockey. I stopped officiating hockey approximately 10 years ago.
Why I want to be a judge:
I began my professional life serving our Country and I want to continue my professional life serving the people of Wisconsin. As a young man, I was prepared for the rewards and challenges of serving as a junior officer in the Army. After 25 years as a litigator, I am prepared for the rewards and challenges of serving as a Circuit Court Judge. I want to utilize the skills I have developed to help more than my clients, myself, or my firm. The mission of my alma matter, The United States Military Academy, is to “develop leaders of character for a lifetime of service to the Country.” By serving as a Circuit Court Judge, I can continue my service to our State and our Country.
My personality and litigation experience give me the skills needed to serve effectively and successfully as a Circuit Court Judge. Our system of government only works if we have strong, independent, and impartial Judges committed to the rule of law. Circuit Court Judges must be fair and impartial without preconceived agendas or goals. I want to serve the people of Wisconsin to ensure these important pillars of our society are preserved.
As a Circuit Court Judge, I will be independent and impartial in practice and appearance. I am committed to the Rule of Law. I know that Circuit Court Judges must apply the law, not create the law. The application of the law must be done impartially, regardless of the litigant’s politics, background, or motives. Everyone who appears in Court must leave the Courtroom knowing that the Judge and the process were impartial. Litigants and observers must know that the Rule of Law, not the Judge’s personal opinions, decided the outcome. I have the personality and experience to enforce the Rule of Law in a way that is equitable and leaves all parties understanding that the process was fair.
I want to serve as a Circuit Court Judge to utilize my talents, skills, and experience to strengthen our State. I will help maintain an independent judiciary, committed to the Rule of Law.
Describe which case in the past 25 years by the Wisconsin Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court you believe had a significant positive or negative impact on the people of Wisconsin:
I believe Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc, 509 U.S. 579, (1993), which was adopted in Wisconsin by Sec. 907.02(1), Wis. Stats., and Siefert v. Balink, 2017 WI 2, has a great impact on the people of Wisconsin, even if few people know about it. When Wisconsin adopted the Daubert Standard, a great deal of authority was transferred from the Jury to the Circuit Court Judge. Under Daubert, the Circuit Court must determine if an expert’s opinions are reliable. While the Court repeatedly indicates that the Circuit Court is not taking the place of a Jury, a party whose case is dismissed because their expert was ruled unreliable will certainly disagree. Although Daubert and Seifert list numerous factors the Court can consider, the Siefert Court stated, “the trial court may consider some, all, or none of the factors.” Siefert, Para 64. The Siefert Court explains that the Trial Court should not accept expert testimony just because the expert is qualified. Seifert, Para 75. However, the Court goes on to explain that the reliability standard can be satisfied by the witness’s “personal knowledge and experience.” Siefert, Para 78. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ends its analysis by deciding that a Circuit Courts decision to admit, or exclude, expert testimony will only be reversed if the Circuit Court abused its discretion. Seifert, Para. 93.
The standard adopted in Seifert gives the Circuit Court tremendous power in any case that requires expert testimony. In many cases, at least one party will have a reason to challenge the other side’s expert. Once challenged, the Circuit Court can exclude the testimony based on “all, some, or none,” of the relevant factors identified in Daubert and Siefert. If there is a plausible reason to exclude the evidence, the Circuit Court’s decision will survive appeal.
Because of the broad authority Circuit Court Judges have, to exclude or admit expert testimony, the selection of Judges may be more important than the people of Wisconsin know. The significant power granted to the Circuit Court relating to expert testimony could have a positive or negative effect on the people of Wisconsin. Many citizens of Wisconsin do not know the Circuit Court has this much control over expert testimony. Because of this, Circuit Court Judges must carefully analyze any challenges to expert testimony. Expert testimony should be excluded when the testimony is clearly unreliable. If expert testimony is excluded, the Circuit Court should make a record explaining why the testimony was excluded, so the people of Wisconsin understand why the expert was not allowed to testify.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
There are many Judges I have appeared before who I admire and respect. Judge Richard Sankovitz, who retired from Milwaukee County, and Judge Dale English in Fond du Lac County stand out for a variety of reasons.
First, they are always prepared. When they say they have read the briefs and have a few questions, it means they have not only read the briefs, but have also researched the topic. They do not waste time on irrelevant or secondary matters. Rather, they make the parties answer tough questions about the key issues. This type of preparation and commitment to understand and evaluate the case is something I greatly admire.
Second, they are willing to use common sense in the administration of their courtrooms. They expect the Attorneys who practice in their courtrooms to be prepared and efficient. However, they understand the difficulties that can arise during a complicated case. When appropriate, they will modify Scheduling Orders and deadlines. However, they will also deny requests when the modifications are not justified. During trials and court hearings, they enforce the Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Evidence in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the rules and an understanding of how the rules should be applied.
Finally, it is clear in court that Judge Sankovitz, and Judge English are attempting to enforce the law in an impartial manner. I have never felt that they were manipulating the law to get the result they wanted. Rather, they strive to issue the decision required by the law. They treat all parties with respect and work hard to obtain the correct result. Even when I disagree with their decisions, I am confident that they analyzed the issues appropriately and reached the decision they believed was required by the law.
The traits that I admire in Judge Sankovitz and Judge English are the traits I will strive to emulate as a Circuit Court Judge.
The proper role of a judge:
The proper role of a Circuit Court Judge is to enforce the law. The Circuit Court is not the place to create new law. However, the Circuit Court Judge must enforce the law in a fair and impartial manner. All litigants must be treated with respect. Not only should litigants leave the courtroom feeling that they were treated fairly, but they should be treated fairly by the Court. Not everyone can leave the courtroom happy with the result. However, I believe the proper role of a Circuit Court Judge is to enforce the law evenly, to ensure all litigants leave the courtroom knowing that the process was impartial and fair.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The city of Milwaukee ran straight into the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law when two Municipal Court judges tried to shortcut and back channel their way into firing JusticePoint, the longtime operator of a successful program to divert impoverished defendants from forfeitures and fees they cannot pay.
Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Block told a Common Council committee that Municipal Court Judges Phil Chavez and Valarie Hill had legitimate cause to fire JusticePoint, but declined to say what that cause was. The two judges did not consult the city's third judge, Molly Gena, on the matter or even tell her firing the agency was under consideration.
The city chose not to fire JusticePoint for cause under its contract with the agency, which would have required notice and an opportunity to cure the practices. Instead, the city terminated JusticePoint for the city's convenience without telling the agency or the public exactly what it was that JusticePoint did wrong.
That decision prompted JusticePoint to take the city to Milwaukee County Circuit Court, alleging in a lawsuit that the city's manipulations violated the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law. Circuit Judge Hannah Dugan ruled that JusticePoint had a reasonable chance of prevailing on the merits and issued a temporary restraining order blocking the contract termination until Oct. 5, when another hearing will be held. (The hearing originally was scheduled for Oct. 31.)
The WFDL is almost 50 years old and was adopted partly to "protect dealers against unfair treatment by grantors, who inherently have superior economic power and superior bargaining power in the negotiation of dealerships."
The city's "convenience clause" in its contract with JusticePoint would allow the city to terminate the pact for any reason with just 10 days' written notice, but a judge could find that clause a dead letter. The WFDL specifically prohibits dealership relationships from being "varied by contract or agreement. Any contract or agreement purporting to do so is void and unenforceable to that extent only."
Block argued in court that JusticePoint did not qualify as a dealership because it did not charge its litigant clients for services. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found way back in 1989, however, that a book distributor who did not sell goods or services to downstream customers still qualified as a dealer through its distribution activities alone.
Jeffrey Mandell, in court and in JusticePoint's $5 million claim against the city, argued that JusticePoint met the required qualifications of a dealership under the law.
First, he said, it has a contract with the city. JusticePoint has been providing Municipal Court Alternative program services since 2014, he said.
Second, JusticePoint distributes services on behalf of the city, "assisting approximately 11,000 individuals since 2015," he wrote in the claim letter.
Finally, he said, a "community of interest," which he acknowledged was a "slippery concept," exists between the city and JusticePoint. The state Supreme Court established two guideposts — a continuing financial interest and interdependence — and the JusticePoint-city relationship meets both, he said. JusticePoint has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run its Milwaukee program.
"The city benefits significantly from JusticePoint's efforts not only inasmuch as JusticePoint fulfills the inherent purposes of the program, but also because JusticePoint increases the City's goodwill and advances prosocial causes, thereby improving the city as a whole and the Municipal Court in particular," he wrote in the Circuit Court suit. Interdependence is shown through the agency's close and continuing collaboration with city officials, he said.
Under the WFDL, the city cannot terminate the JusticePoint contract without providing a 90-day notice, detailing the grounds for termination, and providing JusticePoint with an opportunity to cure, Mandell said in the suit.
The city has done none of those things, he said.
The State Supreme Court this week turned down a petition from the State Bar seeking to offer diversity, equity, inclusion, and access classes as subjects eligible for continuing legal education courses for lawyers. This prompted Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, joined in full by Justice Patience D. Roggensack and in part (four paragraphs) by Justice Annette K. Ziegler, to issue a 33-page concurrence attacking DEIA in rather injudicious language. Grassl Bradley was also upset that other justices refused to engage with her argument. After all, it was 33 pages long and quoted lots of people, so it must be good.
The petition was denied without a hearing. Justice Rebecca F. Dallet, joined by Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Jill J. Karofsky, dissented.
We are dispensing with some of our regular rules to bring you this special SCOW docket. Grassl Bradley gets much more than the usual 10 paragraphs WJI allocates to each justice. Dallet doesn't need that. We do, as usual, eliminate some citations and parentheticals to make the reading easier.
The case: In the Matter of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access Training for Continuing Legal Education
Issued by: Supreme Court Clerk Samuel A. Christensen
The court discussed the petition at a closed administrative conference on February 21, 2023, and voted to deny the petition. Therefore, IT IS ORDERED that the petition is denied.
The court's decision was released Thursday, July 13, almost five months after the vote and two weeks before the conservative justices lose the majority.
On March 22, 2022, the State Bar of Wisconsin...filed a rule petition asking the court to...create a new specialty continuing legal education (CLE) credit that would be called the "Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access" (DEIA) credit. DEIA courses would address “the subject of diversity, equity, inclusion, access, or recognition of bias, which includes topics addressing diversity and inclusion in the legal system of all persons regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disabilities and topics designed to educate attorneys on the recognition and reduction of bias.” Under the proposal, lawyers could use DEIA CLE credit-hours to fulfill their 30 hours of required CLE credits ....
In August 2022, the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) recommended an alternative proposal to the court, which limited DEIA credits to courses related to subjects within the legal system and limited the number of DEIA credit hours attorneys could use to satisfy their CLE requirements to six credits per reporting cycle.
The decision mentioned three comments it received on the petition. Two comments were in favor, one was against.
Concurrence footnote 1 (inserted after the justice's name at the start of the opinion)
Proving well that many proponents of DEIA orthodoxy demonize its critics, the dissenting justices "choose not to respond" to this concurrence, instead dismissing it with a headline-grabbing caricature as "hostile, divisive, and disrespectful" "political rhetoric[.]" This concurrence cites more than a dozen United States Supreme Court decisions, multiple state supreme court decisions, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, James Madison, Montesquieu, and at least an additional dozen legal scholars, authors, and professors. Of course, the real reason for the dissenters' refusal to engage with the substance of an opinion spanning more than 30 pages is the imminent change in court membership. The new majority will reverse this court's order at its first opportunity.
The dissenters borrow a rhetorical tactic from the modern political sphere increasingly employed by justices of this court in lieu of legal argument. When lawyers decline to respond to legal arguments advanced in a case, the court considers the point conceded.
Because lawyers already are receiving credit for such courses ... the petition is unnecessary and the court rightly rejects it without holding a public hearing. I therefore respectfully concur but write separately to highlight how DEIA courses damage human dignity, undermine equality, and violate the law:
1. Collectively, the buzzwords "diversity, equity, inclusion, and access" represent a smoke screen for a divisive political agenda that perniciously reduces people to racial categories and strips them of their unique individuality;
2. This petition originated in partisan controversy and is a well-documented step toward mandatory DEIA CLE;
3. The Bar's one-and-a-half page memorandum in support of its petition presents a pretextual and underdeveloped argument for attorney freedom of choice but all along the Bar has planned to seek compulsory DEIA CLE; and
4. The proposed rule raises serious moral and constitutional concerns.
If the Bar's end game were simply CLE credit, the petition would be easily dismissed as virtue signaling given the liberality with which the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) already awards credit for such courses. But the Bar ultimately seeks to mandate DEIA training, impose group think on attorneys, and condition bar admission and continuing licensure on subscribing to an illiberal political ideology. Real diversity means welcoming dissenting voices, not coercing them into an echo chamber using the force of the State ....
Regrettably, our society is in the midst of "revert[ing] to being tribal and genetically determined." We live in an increasingly "race-obsessed" society — and one ever more obsessed with other immutable characteristics. Various institutions promote a lie designed to divide .... Under this distorted viewpoint, Black Americans "are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery and the historical subjugation of black Americans still determining our lives today" (quoting U.S. Justice Clarence Thomas).
Facially benign verbiage under the umbrella of DEIA shrouds this regression toward a freshly fractured society. Nice-sounding euphemisms aside, DEIA initiatives often presuppose the existence of certain "universal values," which are not actually universally shared, in an effort to stifle debate....
At times, the soothing oratory is unmasked and the quiet part said out loud. Ibram X. Kendi's 2019 book, How to Be an Antiracist, has become DEIA canon. He rejects Martin Luther King Jr.'s wisdom, declaring, "[t]he language of color-blindness . . . is a mask to hide racism. . . . The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination." This philosophy perpetuates an ugly cycle of race-based retribution. If it becomes universally accepted, contemporary victims of discrimination will seek the "only remedy" of "future discrimination" against their oppressors....
Many Americans have begun to see the "smooth-sounding siren of racial classification" for what it is: a tool for discrimination. Illiberal elites see the issue differently. They craft student bodies, corporate boards, and even voting districts to have just the "right" racial makeup. While decrying discrimination, they unabashedly discriminate on the basis of race, sex, and other immutable characteristics. They silence dissenters with the threat of being shunned as "bigots."
Recently, the ABA (American Bar Association) amended its policy to read, in relevant part, as follows: "Program organizers will invite and include prospective moderators and faculty members to create CLE panels that meet the objectives of Goal III. This includes, among others, moderators and faculty members from historically underrepresented communities e.g., racial and ethnic demographic groups/people of color, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals."
.... Such policies are morally wrong because each individual possesses inherent dignity; we are much more than our immutable characteristics. Exclusion and inclusion based on such categories harm human dignity and impede the enduring American goal of "achieving a more pluralistic society." Ultimately, identity politics should be rejected . . . because it poses a threat to republican self-government by corroding patriotic ties, fostering hatred, promoting cultural separatism, and demanding special treatment rather than equality under the law."
.... Given its ultimate responsibility for the CLE approval process overseen by the BBE, the Wisconsin Supreme Court cannot condone programming that violates equal protection.
In Minnesota, attorneys can take a class on avoiding "microaggressions" — i.e., how to be so boring no one can possibly take offense. Perhaps attorneys should have the freedom to take courses like these for credit, but mandating them would only force attorneys to subject themselves to political indoctrination.
Consider whether the proponents of mandatory DEIA CLE would agree courses presenting a conservative perspective qualify....
This court's "proper role" — whatever else it may be — is not to "[f]oster division[.]" Judges swear an oath to administer justice without respect to persons; we are to treat people equally. DEIA sorts people into arbitrary boxes and then treats them differently on the basis of race, sex, sexual identity, or disability. That alone justifies rejecting this petition....
An overview of this petition's origins illustrates both DEIA's troubling ideology and the Bar's strategic plan to make DEIA CLE mandatory. In late May 2020, a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota killed a Black man. The officer was later convicted of second-degree murder among other crimes.
That summer, protests and riots broke out across the nation. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a police officer shot an armed Black man who was resisting arrest. The officer was not charged. During the ensuing riots, much of Kenosha was razed. The governor declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
A political movement known as Black Lives Matter began about a decade earlier but acquired prominence following the Minneapolis murder. The movement advocates a radical political agenda and is proudly anti-law enforcement. It makes outrageous and unsupported claims on its official website, including "[t]he police were born out of slave patrols." Currently, the website lists several "demands," many of which are wholly unrelated to racial justice. BLM Demands, Black Lives Matter. The list states, in full:
In June 2020, the Bar issued an official statement endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement and repeating the slander that our justice system is irredeemably racist.... Under a link to this statement on the Bar's website appears a list of actions the Bar is taking to "step up[.]" The list includes "advancing a proposal that requires Wisconsin lawyers receive elimination of bias/diversity and inclusion training[.]"
As her first official act, the President of the Bar formed the Racial Justice Task Force in June 2020....
The Bar's Board of Governors acted on the task force's recommendations a year later, in June 2021.
.... The Bar's President-elect was not directed to merely form a task force to consider the pros and cons of mandatory DEIA CLE. The main motion as amended states the task force shall "study and collect data and information in support [but apparently not in opposition] and draft language for diversity, equity and inclusion credits to be mandatory for all members of the . . . Bar[.]" The purpose of the amendment, as documented in the minutes, was to "ensure" voluntary DEIA CLE is merely "a strategic step toward the main goal of mandatory DEI CLE[.]"
The Bar omitted its end goal of mandatory DEIA CLE from the petition presently before this court ....
Attorneys already enjoy considerable freedom to choose from a wide range of CLE incorporating DEIA concepts. As the adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."...
Only exacerbating the petition's deficiencies, the Bar presents "facts" with no evidence. For example, the petition states, without support, "[r]ecent and repeated events have shined a spotlight on the systemic injustices and inequities that are present in our institutions, including the legal system." The Bar does not explain what these problems are or how they are connected to bias. Instead, the Bar simply assumes bigotry is at hand.... The conclusory nature of the Bar's argument is problematic in and of itself, but it also illustrates a broader issue: DEIA CLE is not so much about seriously studying the causes of injustices as it is about simplistically presuming the cause is inescapable bias.
Even if the Bar supplied some support for its premise, it has not submitted evidence about the effectiveness of DEIA CLE in remedying deficient behavior. Existing evidence suggests DEIA training can have negative consequences, at least when the training is mandated....
Against this backdrop, the Bar effectively seeks a virtue signal from this court, asking us to demonstrate "awareness of and attentiveness to" preferred "political issues, matters of social and racial justice, etc." without "taking effective action." The Bar explains it "sees this [proposed rule] as necessary to acknowledge DEIA as a real and important . . . [CLE] topic for study." The Bar, however, failed to provide evidence of any problem solvable by DEIA CLE. Instead, the Bar presumes the propriety of a controversial worldview, perhaps confident that any dissent would be squelched by the predictable and petty slanders of the cancel culture crowd. Adopting the proposed rule might make its proponents feel like they made a difference, but sowing racial division is "real change" the court rightly rejects.
The very point of mandating DEIA CLE would be to create a "goose-stepping brigade" of attorneys, but "the First Amendment applies strictures designed to keep our society from becoming moulded into patterns of conformity[.]" On its face, the proposed rule might seem viewpoint neutral, but anyone with even nominal exposure to its underlying illiberal political ideology knows the intent is to force a particular view on an entire profession. The DEIA movement's contempt for the First Amendment erodes the freedom of attorneys to advocate in their clients' best interests lest they run afoul of prevailing sensitivities ....
On this record, mandatory DEIA CLE would also violate Article I, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution by infringing economic liberty without cause. Excluding attorneys from the profession because they refuse to embrace a political ideology would infect the entire legal system with injustice the constitution does not permit: "[t]hat is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens . . . free choice of their occupation[.]" This court lacks any authority to condition a license to practice law on the attorney's professed allegiance to a particular orthodoxy....
With an imminent change in supreme court personnel, the Bar will likely resubmit this petition, or more likely a version requesting mandatory DEIA CLE (hence the brevity of the dissent). Sworn to support our constitutions, the court must carefully consider the First Amendment implications of mandating DEIA CLE lest the court suffer another summary reversal by a federal court.
Tellingly, not a single member of the Bar's Board of Governors (a large body) opposed the petition; additionally, only one attorney wrote to this court in opposition to it. Although some may interpret the dearth of critical commentary as evidence of the petition's widespread support, "the absence of such voices" represents "a symptom of grave illness in our society." For our society to heal, DEIA proponents must stop demonizing dissenters....
The Court dismisses this rule petition without so much as a hearing, implying that it lacks even "arguable merit." See IOP.IV.A. (stating that the court should hold a public hearing on a rule petition when it has "arguable merit."). But twenty-one states, including our neighboring states, either require DEIA training or allow those trainings to count toward CLE requirements. And the American Bar Association (ABA) similarly recommends that states require one credit hour of such training every three years. Collectively, these states and the ABA, like our State Bar, recognize that DEIA training "is vital for attorneys to gain knowledge of individual and cultural differences and turn this knowledge into usable skills for serving a diverse community, thereby improving the quality of legal services." In short, the arguable merit of this rule petition is obvious and I would follow our internal operating procedures and hold a hearing.4 Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.
Dissent footnote 4
I choose not to respond to the substance of the concurrence, which is hostile, divisive, and disrespectful. This political rhetoric has no place in an order of the court. We should instead engage earnestly with opposing perspectives by granting a hearing on the petition, which is what our ordinary process requires.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Milwaukee landlord Youssef Berrada and his company filed an emergency petition Tuesday asking the state Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a statute the state used to gain access to hundreds of documents it is using in its lawsuit against the company, Berrada Properties Management, Inc.
The petition also asks the court to review an administrative rule voiding rental agreements that contain certain provisions. No statute allows the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to declare contracts void and unenforceable, the petition alleges. Instead, the agency can only forbid or prescribe unfair and fair trade practices and business competition methods, Berrada said.
The statute in question, §93.15, allows Berrada and his firm, referred to collectively as "Berrada" in the petition, to be criminally punished without judicial review for failing to comply with a DATCP civil investigation demand, the petition alleges.
The law is "facially unconstitutional," Berrada alleges. The state has not yet filed a response.
The statute allows DATCP to demand that business operators "file with the department, at such time and in such manner as the department may direct, sworn or unsworn reports or sworn or unsworn answers in writing to specific questions, as to any matter which the department may investigate."
The third paragraph of the law prohibits failure or refusal to supply the information, making false statements, or, "except through judicial process, resist(ing) or obstruct(ing) any official or subordinate of the department in the exercise of the official's or subordinate's lawful authority."
Each violation of that third paragraph is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and one year of incarceration.
The law is unconstitutional because such a "search scheme" must allow the entity or person to be searched to have a precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker, Berrada said in the petition.
"The law is also unconstitutional because it punishes search recipients for exercising their constitutional right to refuse warrantless, unreasonable searches," Berrada attorneys Ryan Walsh, Amy Miller, and Delanie Breuer wrote in the petition.
The state also needs to meet requirements for a warrant and probable cause because "the demands sought information to serve as evidence in an investigation of penal laws — which carry penalties of civil forfeitures, criminal fines, and imprisonment," the petition said.
"Because Berrada responded to these demands only on pain of criminal punishment, his statements were involuntary and cannot be used against him under the Fifth Amendment and Wisconsin Constitution," the petition said.
The state Department of Justice filed suit against Berrada in November 2021, alleging that he and his companies violated Wisconsin landlord-tenant law in numerous ways, including illegal provisions in leases, illegally charging tenants late-rent fees and court fees, and engaging in illegal security deposit deduction practices. Berrada and his firm also used illegal practices while remodeling occupied buildings, the suit said. Those practices, according to the complaint, included forcing tenants out of their apartments, throwing away their property, and entering apartments without proper notice.
The DOJ said at the time that Berrada owned more than 170 limited liability companies that owned a total of more than 8,000 apartment units in the state.
The suit, filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, relied heavily on information gathered through the civil investigation demands, the petition says.
"The State is now using the circuit court’s authority, through the civil discovery processes, to obtain potentially hundreds of thousands of documents from Berrada, all of which are tainted by the unlawful" civil investigation demands, the attorneys wrote.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Pedro Colon erred when he compelled Berrada to turn over "tainted evidence," the petition said.
"This is a manifest error of law — a court's process cannot be used to further a constitutional violation," the petition says.
Colon has indicated he will order Berrada "to turn over potentially millions of pages of tainted evidence in 30 days," the petition said.
"Berrada suffers irreparable harm every day, as Berrada is now forced to expend resources and turn over more and more private documents and respond to demands for additional information — all of which is fruit of the poisonous tree that the State is forbidden from using against Berrada."
By Gretchen Schuldt
A Milwaukee County circuit judge on Monday granted a temporary restraining order blocking the city of Milwaukee from terminating JusticePoint's contract to operate the Municipal Court's program that steers indigent defendants to appropriate services and coordinates community service opportunities for people who qualify for alternatives to forfeitures.
Circuit Judge Hannah Dugan said, among other things, that JusticePoint had a reasonable probability of success on the merits and would be irreparably harmed without the restraining order. She set a further hearing for Oct. 31 before Circuit Judge J.D. Watts.
"Everything has to stay the status quo according to the contract," she said.
Sheldyn Himle, chief court administrator of Municipal Court, declined to comment on the ruling.
JusticePoint on Sunday filed suit against the city, alleging the manner in which it was terminated — allegedly without cause, without proper notice, and without a chance to cure any deficiency — violated state law. JusticePoint filed a $5 million claim with the city on June 30 as a precursor to the lawsuit.
Two Municipal Court judges, Phil Chavez and Valarie Hill, arranged the contract termination without consulting the third judge, Molly Gena. The termination was to be effective at the end of the day Monday, July 10. The city never made public any specific allegations against JusticePoint, but said the contract was terminated for the city's "convenience."
The firm's CEO, Nick Sayner, has said the only potential problem he was aware of was JusticePoint's practice of providing copies of municipal citations to Legal Action of Wisconsin attorneys representing the indigent defendants involved in the cases.
Sayner has said the agreement to provide the tickets was hammered out five or more years ago in negotiations involving both JusticePoint and city officials, including representatives of the city attorney's office. When Municipal Court raised concerns about it last March, he said, JusticePoint stopped providing the citations.
WJI will update this story, so check back for more on the hearing. Read our previous JusticePoint coverage here, here, and here. WJI policy analyst Gretchen Schuldt wrote about the issue for the Shepherd Express here.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Milwaukee Municipal Court judges are routinely violating state law in a way that "undermines" a defendant's right to appeal some cases to Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Legal Action of Wisconsin said in a new lawsuit.
The suit, technically a petition for a supervisory writ, asks Circuit Judge Pedro Colon to command Municipal Court and its judges to electronically record, as required by law, every hearing held to determine inability to pay a judgment due to poverty and every hearing on reopening a case.
The suit names as defendants Milwaukee Municipal Court, its chief administrator, Sheldyn Himle, and Judges Phillip Chavez, Valarie Hill, and Molly Gena.
Gena, who assumed office in May, is the former managing attorney of Legal Action. Himle declined to comment.
The petition was filed on behalf of a Municipal Court litigant who was unable to appeal a case because her hearings were not recorded, according to the suit.
The woman appeared at a Municipal Court hearing via Zoom in September 2020, according to the suit.
At that hearing, the Municipal Court judge ordered the woman, a single mother who receives Social Security disability benefits, to satisfy her outstanding debt by an installment payment plan, Legal Action attorney Susan Lund wrote.
"The court must have discussed (the woman's) income and ability to pay before determining that a payment arrangement was necessary or setting the amount of her installment payments," she wrote. "The only record of this hearing, the docket, provides no information about those discussions. The record does show that if (the woman) did not pay, the court would automatically issue a warrant, a routine practice of several Milwaukee Municipal Court judges."
The woman appeared at another hearing in February 2021, after a warrant was issued.
"The docket reflects, 'Def told how to resolve this cs and DL susp 30% of cs 20015220 and 20015221,' " Lund wrote.
"There is no further explanation of what this phrase means, much less any information about whether the judge considered all necessary factors and issues," she said. "It seems clear that there was some discussion of (the woman's) ability to pay, but there is no explanation in the docket for why the judge failed to lift the warrant when (the woman) was a recipient of means-tested public assistance."
Under state law, recipients of such public assistance automatically are presumed unable to pay, and a judge must suspend or extend payment or consider community service as an alternative.
The woman appeared in another case that same day. The docket for that one states, “ 'Def given information of 30% being $82 to terminated DL suspension,' " according to the suit.
"Once again, the Court failed to record the hearing, though money and ability to pay must have been discussed," Lund wrote. "Once again, the docket provides no information about what law or facts the judge considered during the hearing or why the judge decided not to lift (the woman's) driver’s license suspension."
The woman owes a total of $428 in three cases, the petition says. In two cases, Municipal Court listed, as an alternative to payment, "Commitment – Consecutive for 4 days," a reference to incarceration for four days. In the other case, the Court listed as an alternative a one-year suspension of the woman's driver's license.
The woman "has been notified by standard computer-generated notices that failure to pay by the due date will result in automatic enforcement of the sanctions for nonpayment," Lund wrote.
(Lund said in a footnote that the woman would like to reopen two tickets, including one with an outstanding forfeiture, in the interest of justice because Municipal Court suspended her license in error. The mistake led to two separate convictions of operating after suspension, resulting in $460 in forfeitures and reinstatement fees.)
The lack of recordings make appeals to Circuit Court extremely difficult, Lund said.
"In a municipal court record review, a circuit court is limited in their review of the record to determining whether the evidence supports the municipal court decision," she wrote. "The circuit court also has the right to review the municipal court’s interpretations of a statute or any other conclusions of law de novo. ... Neither of those things will generally be possible without a transcript, as oral requests and oral decisions are common and indigent defendants have no right to counsel."
Milwaukee Municipal Court's failure to record as required by law is not limited to the woman's cases, the petition says.
"Milwaukee Municipal Court has likely failed to record hundreds of hearings over the last three years," Lund wrote.
When the court fails to properly record a hearing, the court "makes a decision that is both irrevocable and unappealable. ... Once the unrecorded proceeding is over, it can never be recorded."
In a letter sent July 6, Wisconsin Justice Initiative called on Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and members of the Common Council to continue the Milwaukee Municipal Court Alternatives Program with JusticePoint and restore funding for the Municipal Court defense project staffed by Legal Action of Wisconsin.
The JusticePoint program assists low-income individuals facing municipal court forfeitures with satisfying community service obligations and finding needed treatment or other social services.
The legal defense project provides legal advice and attorney representation for low-income individuals facing municipal citations.
WJI's letter read as follows.
The city is set to collect millions of dollars in new sales tax revenue from people living in poverty while simultaneously stripping away basic legal services from those same impoverished residents.
The audacity of it is both pretty amazing and utterly appalling.
Poor people will pay more in taxes to support pensions for city employees but won’t have the help they need in Municipal Court. City officials are standing idly by while two judges terminate JusticePoint’s contract to run the Court Alternatives Services program that finds programs for defendants who need them and recommends alternative sentences, like community service, for those who cannot afford to pay forfeitures.
There will be something in place of JusticePoint, but it will definitely be something less — other organizations simply do not have the experience or resources that JusticePoint has.
The poor people who will pay more so city employees can be sure of their pensions also won’t have a lawyer to defend them in Municipal Court, either. The city did not renew funding for Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Municipal Court defense project, which provides legal representation for impoverished defendants who cannot adequately represent themselves.
These two moves mean poor people, besides shelling out more in taxes, will pay more in forfeitures and fees they should not face and cannot afford.
Whose version of justice is this?
The new taxes collected from poor people are sure to be far, far more than the $600,000 combined cost of the two Municipal Court programs being axed.
Some aldermen have said there is nothing they can do about Municipal Court’s JusticePoint contract, but that is not true. The Common Council itself can enter into a new contract with JusticePoint, save the alternatives program, and demand some sorely needed accountability from the court.
The Legal Action funding should be renewed (and increased) primarily as a simple matter of justice for defendants and to ensure the judges, who operate without scrutiny from the mayor’s office, the Common Council, or their supervisors in the Wisconsin Court System, adhere to the law when hearing cases and treat defendants fairly and with dignity.
The city clearly needs to raise revenue. But it is about to increase taxes on the poor while subjecting them to increased legal jeopardy, with all of its ramifications and collateral consequences.
Is this really the best that Milwaukee can do?
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