Wis. SC chief justice: Courts play 'crucial role' in quality of life

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Feb 7, 2013

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) -- Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson says the financial partnership between counties and the state court system provides a justice system with a "high rate of return on investment" for residents.

Abrahamson spoke to members of the Wisconsin Counties Association Wednesday. County officials gathered for its 2013 Legislative Exchange in Madison to discuss important issues facing counties across the state.

The chief justice told members that the state invests less than one penny of every state tax dollar to support the judicial branch of government, including trial courts in all 72 counties and two levels of appellate courts.

"Courts play a crucial role in the quality of life in all Wisconsin communities. The courts help ensure that the law is not just words written on paper but that the law has meaning. The investment that the counties and the state make in the judicial system directly contributes to the economic health of our communities," she said.

Courts also resolve criminal cases and help settle disputes that have not been resolved amicably, including family disputes, she said.

Abrahamson said the Supreme Court's 2013-15 state budget request would help ensure a continued return on investment for residents by boosting financial assistance to the counties and increasing compensation to attract and retain quality judges and staff.

"The court system, like everyone else, made sacrifices during difficult times. The time for deferred maintenance, however, is coming to an end. We need to tune up the system with more state funding," she said.

In addition to encouraging further investment in the court system, Abrahamson urged the state to help address the growing numbers of self-represented litigants.

Increasingly, people are representing themselves without counsel in family law cases and small claims court, as well as in other civil cases because they cannot afford an attorney, she explained.

"The result is that individuals in our communities, without legal assistance, struggle to stay in their homes, to keep their children, to get government benefits or to protect themselves from abusers," the chief justice said.

"The justice system defines who we are as a people and what we value as a state. We must move forward to fulfill our aspiration of equal justice for all under the law. The executive, legislative and judicial branches at the state and county levels must be creative to ensure access to justice for indigent and low income persons. Rationing justice does not serve our communities or the court system well."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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