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Home : Additional Resources : News


March, 2015 -- Proposed Changes to Health Insurance Harms Low-Income People 

Governor Walker's proposed budget makes changes to Wisconsin's Badger Care Plus health insurance program -- changes that will be very harmful to our low-income clients.  Click the link below to read Legal Action attorney Vanessa Kuettel's testimony before the legislature's finance committee about the problems with these changes for our clients and about the real-life help this health insurance program gives our clients.  


February 2014 -- Forms to request a court-appointed civil lawyer 

If you use these forms, we'd love to hear from you.  What happened?  Was a lawyer appointed?  Send us an email by clicking this link:  CONTACT.


Feb 2012 - Helping People Get and Keep a Job 

On February 7th, we received an important decision from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in one of our childcare licensing cases, Jamerson v. Department of Children and Families and the Department of Administration.  The decision says that the Department can’t revoke a childcare provider’s license without giving her a hearing – a hearing where she can present evidence and answer or challenge the reasons for the revocation.  Click here to read more about this decision.



January 2012 -- Right to Counsel: Open Letter to Wisconsin Courts 

John Ebbott, Legal Action Executive Director













June 14 - Housing Law Changes Will Harm Tenants, Legal Action Lawyer Warns Lawmakers 

Legal Action Attorney Heidi Wegleitner

MADISON, WI - The Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing has advanced a bill that would weaken protection for Dane County renters, including those who are poor and ex-offenders trying to rejoin society, and could endanger future federal funding for the state, a Legal Action of Wisconsin attorney warns.

Heidi Wegleitner, whose practice with Legal Action includes housing issues, told the committee that the proposed law changes, known as Senate Bill 107, create new obstacles for law-abiding citizens seeking safe, affordable housing, and for advocates working to eliminate homelessness.

Read excerpts from Wegleitner's testimony before the Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing (PDF, 128 KB)

The changes would permit housing providers to discriminate against anyone with an arrest record, regardless of whether the person was actually convicted, how long ago the arrest occurred, or any evidence the person has been rehabilitated.

The bill also could jeopardize future federal funding for Madison and Dane County, because it would create obstacles to their efforts to “affirmatively further fair housing” as federal rules require, she said.


June 2 - Legal Action Housing Staff Honored by Wisconsin Fair Housing Network 

Legal Action's Housing staff includes, left to right: Michael Peragine, April Hartman, Erika Petty, Mark Silverman (seated) and Chris Koehnke.

The Wisconsin Fair Housing Network has honored Legal Action of Wisconsin its for its work to change a Milwaukee ordinance that was pushing some victims of domestic violence out of their homes.

Legal Action received the Fair Housing Network Partnerships Award, along with Harvard University and the disability-rights group IndependenceFirst.

Lawyers and staff with Legal Action's Housing Unit helped the city of Milwaukee amend its Chronic Nuisance Ordinance, which previously had been used by some landlords to push victims of domestic violence out of their homes.


Legal Action's contributions included filing open-records requests, tallying data and recommending new ordinance language that did not discriminate against domestic violence victims.

Legal Action also filed notices of claims against Milwaukee on behalf of two tenants negatively affected by the ordinance.

March 16: Fair Housing Council Files Federal Complaint Over Waukesha County Segregation 

Legal Action of Wisconsin has long worked with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council to improve access to housing for all people. Now MMFHC has filed a formal complaint with the federal government because Waukesha County is continuing to discriminate against non-white residents despite receiving federal community-development funds that require the county to address discrimination.

MMFHC Press Release



October 7: More Poor People in Wisconsin: Need for Lawyers in Civil Cases Grows Too 

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin’s share of the nation’s poverty is growing, and the need for legal services here for poor people in civil cases is growing right along with it.

Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that as of 2009, Wisconsin was home to 683,408 poor people, or about 1.6 percent of all poor people in the United States. Details.

That’s up sharply from 2000, when the census tallied 451,538 poor people in Wisconsin, or 1.25 percent of the nation’s poor.

The 2009 data show 12.4 percent of all Wisconsin residents were at or below the poverty line, which was defined that year as a family of four earning less than $22,050 annually. This too is a sharp increase from 2000, when the census found about 8.4 percent of the state’s residents living in poverty.

The 2009 statistics also showed that Milwaukee is now the fourth poorest city in the nation – up from 11th in 2008 – behind only Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. About 27 percent of all Milwaukeeans were poor by 2009, and nearly 4 in 10 children in Milwaukee were poor: An estimated 62,432 children lived in poverty in Milwaukee last year, up from 49,952 in 2008.

For Legal Action of Wisconsin and other organizations providing legal services in civil cases to the poor in Wisconsin, the rise in poverty means resources will be stretched tighter and more people will probably go unserved, said Michael Maher, Legal Action’s administrator.

“Because the potential client population is growing much faster” than Legal Actions resources, “the need for legal services in Wisconsin is going to seem even more overwhelming,” Maher said.

For more information contact Leon Lynn at 414-278-7722, x3024 or lpl@legalaction.org

Sept. 27: Wisconsin Residents Petititon State Supreme Court to Create a Right to Civil Counsel 

If you can't afford a lawyer, chances are you won't get justice.

On Thursday, Sept. 30, 1,286 Wisconsin residents are filing a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, asking the court to issue a rule that would require a judge to appoint counsel for a poor person where a case is complicated and involves fundamental rights, and when a poor person is not able represent himself or herself.

The petition will be filed at the Wisconsin Supreme Court clerk’s office in Madison following a press conference on the East steps of the Capitol at noon (facing King Street).

Speakers will include:

•    E. Michael McCann, former Milwaukee County District Attorney
•    Hon. James Gramling, former Chief Judge of the Milwaukee Municipal Court
•    John F. Ebbott, Executive Director of Legal Action of Wisconsin
•    Tom Cannon, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee
•    Rev. John Jacobs, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Milwaukee.

The petition can be viewed at http://www.wisgideon.com/petition.html.

Each year, tens of thousands of low-income Wisconsin residents are hauled into court, or must turn to the courts as their only remedy, to litigate over such fundamental things as their children, their homes and their incomes.

Without a lawyer to help them navigate the complicated legal process, most of these people don't have a fair chance to be heard, let alone to prevail. They need a lawyer in the courtroom, just as they need a doctor in the operating room.

What's more, their inexperience with the legal system causes huge problems for the courts themselves: difficulties for judges, repeat court appearances and delays. These problems add to court expenses and increase the workload of the courts.

"Poor people desperately need lawyers," said John Ebbott, executive director of Legal Action of Wisconsin and a member of the Wisconsin Right to Counsel Task Force.

While there are numerous efforts in Wisconsin to provide some help to poor people, such as clinics where people  are helped to fill out legal forms, "we’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s enough," Ebbott said. 'The first time a question comes up in a courtroom that requires knowledge of the law, the person without a lawyer is in trouble. Why have a legal system if it only works for those with money?”

"It's time for action," Ebbott said. "We've described the problem long enough - now we need to fix it."

Appointed lawyers in civil cases can be paid for from existing funds, particularly the Court Support Services Surcharge, according to Ebbott. In 2007-08, this surcharge generated $51.7 million. Only $24.8 million went back to the courts; $22.3 million funded other state activities. Thus nearly half of this surcharge is not being used for its original purpose: to support the courts.

This money could clearly be used to fund appointed lawyers, Ebbott said. "This will also improve court efficiency, and thus save much money in court resources."


July 8 -- Three Legal Action Lawyers Nominated to Serve on Legislative Council Study Committees 

MILWAUKEE -- Three attorneys with Legal Action of Wisconsin have been nominated to serve on state Legislative Council Study Committees.

The co-chairs of the council made the recommendations, which are expected to win approval from the full 22-member Legislative Council soon.

The nominations:

  • Sheila Sullivan of the Milwaukee office was nominated to serve on the Special Committee on Review of Records Access of Circuit Court Documents.
  • Hal Menendez of the Madison office was nominated to serve on the Special Committee on Public Assistance Program Integrity.
  • Korey Lundin of the Madison office was nominated to serve on the Special Committee on Review of Spousal Maintenance Awards in Divorce Proceedings.


June 10 -- Housing Authority Must Follow the Law When Deciding Rest-Assistance Cases, Appeals Court Rules in Legal Action Case 

MILWAUKEE – The city’s Housing Authority didn’t properly explain why it denied rent assistance to Leverna Bratcher, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has ruled, and must give her a new hearing.
The court’s decision this week could potentially affect the way the Housing Authority treats thousands of clients in Milwaukee.

“The Housing Authority has to apply a legal standard to its decisions, and has to give proper notice of the basis for those decisions,” said April Hartman, a lawyer with Legal Action of Wisconsin who brought Bratcher’s case before the state appeals court.

The agency has failed to follow clear standards in other housing-assistance cases as well, “and we hope this decision makes them stop,” Hartman said

The Housing Authority manages more than 4,000 units of federally subsidized low-income housing, administers more than 5,600 rent-assistance vouchers, and owns and manages more than 1,000 rental housing units.

In 2007 Bratcher received a form letter telling her she’d been denied rent assistance because of an arrest for battery in 2004 and because she was found guilty of disorderly conduct in Milwaukee Municipal Court in 2003.

No charges were filed after Brachter’s 2004 arrest, and the Housing Authority agreed to drop that as a reason for denying her rent assistance. In the 2003 incident, Bratcher received a disordely conduct citation from police after banging on a neighbor’s door during an argument. She pleaded no contest to the charge, “which isn’t an admission that she did anything wrong,” Hartman said.

The form letter “did not explain what rules, regulations or published standards of the rent assistance program were violated by the arrest and civil citation,” the Court of Appeals decision said.

A subsequent written decision told Brachter she engaged in “the type of behavior that the Rent Assistance Program tries to screen out,” but federal regulations don’t recognize that as a basis for denying rent assistance, the decision said.

The court ordered the Housing Authority to conduct a new rent-assistance hearing for Bratcher, this time ensuring that Bratcher receives proper notice of the issues to be decided. The agency also must explain how its decision is consistent with established legal principles, the court said.

The Court of Appeals decision is appeal number 2009AP2204, Leverna Bratcher v. Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee.

Established in 1968, Legal Action of Wisconsin (Legal Action) is a non-profit law firm that ensures equal justice for low-income people With offices in six cities, Legal Action serves 39 southern Wisconsin counties with 55 staff attorneys. Legal Action is supported by more than 60 public and private funding sources, including the federally-funded Legal Services Corporation, and has hundreds of active volunteer attorneys who supplement, enhance, and support the work of staff attorneys.

For more information contact Leon Lynn at 414-278-7722 x3024, or lpl@legalaction.org.