‘Drowning’ in meth and heroin, a Wisconsin county takes a stand for public defenders

Over in Hayward, Wis., a judge has had just about enough of a justice system that is based on extending constitutional rights depending on the income of people. And that’s what the crisis in the public defender system creates.

You have a right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed — unless there’s nobody available to represent you.

Judge John Yackel, of Sawyer County, said he’s standing up against the system after Wisconsin’s public defender office couldn’t come up with someone to represent a citizen.

Wisconsin pays public defenders $40 an hour and $25 an hour travel expenses. It’s one reason why poor people have a way of ending up in jail.

That’s the lowest rate in the country. And it’s particularly bad in rural areas of the state.

“If people want to be known as the individuals who have allowed rural Wisconsin finally to go over the edge to where drug dealers run freely, well so be it,” Yackel said at a hearing last week, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Due process of the most guilty is how we protect due process for everyone,” Yackel said.

Lawyers asked the Supreme Court to raise the rate to $100 but the court said it didn’t have the authority. The Legislature punted on taking any action because — let’s face it — nobody scores political points by extending constitutional protections to people accused of crimes.

Yackel, 44, isn’t a “liberal” judge, the JS says. He’s the only judge in the county that is drowning in meth and heroin.

In June, a 30-year old woman was charged with selling. She sat in jail for eight days before posting bail and she still doesn’t have an attorney. Yackel may have to set her free although without representation, she may not know she has the right to a speedy trial.

Archive: A day in the life of a public defender (NewsCut)

From 2015: High-profile public defender Lauri Traub also waits tables (Star Tribune)