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Legal Action of Wis. asks again for public defense lawyers be appointed for non-criminal cases

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - The Wisconsin Supreme Court was asked again Monday to let low-income people have tax-funded lawyers in certain types of civil cases. 

Legal Action of Wisconsin, which represents poor people, filed a petition with the justices along with 19 other attorneys. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled long ago that public defenders be appointed in criminal cases -- but the same representation is not legally offered in civil cases. 

Two years ago, the Wisconsin justices were asked to grant tax-funded lawyers for civil plaintiffs in cases where it's necessary to assure fairness. 

The justices favored the concept, but they said taxpayers could not afford the high cost -- said at the time to be $50-million a year. 

John Ebbott of Legal Action said it would be wrong for his group to quit seeking fairness in the civil courts. 

They're also asking that the Supreme Court pay for a pilot project in Jefferson County, where a study is taking place on the effects of letting low-income litigants have public attorneys in cases of foreclosures, evictions, ending parental rights, and losses of food stamps and other public benefits.