Gov. Jim Doyle signs public defender bill, 30 others

Posted: March 15, 2010

Madison — Poor people will have an easier time getting a public defender under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jim Doyle.

The law changes the eligibility standards for securing public defenders starting in July 2011. The plan will cost the state about $4.1 million a year but will save counties an estimated $6 million a year.
Now, Wisconsin has the nation’s stingiest eligibility standards for getting a public defender, according to the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. People charged with a felony do not qualify for a public defender if, having two children, they are paid $7.25 an hour, have $300 in cash and a car worth $2,000, according to the state public defender’s office.

The bill Doyle signed will allow public defenders for anyone earning up to 115% of the federal poverty guidelines, with up to $30,000 equity in their home, a $10,000 car and $2,500 in other assets.

Judges often appoint private attorneys for poor defendants who don’t qualify for public defenders. Private attorneys cost more than public defenders and are paid by counties rather than the state.

Supporters of the new law say it will save taxpayers $2 million a year when all costs are taken into account.