Wisconsin Assembly bill looks to allow district attorneys to work pro bono

MADISON, Wis (WMTV) - Lawmakers discussed a bill that would allow district attorneys and assistant district attorneys to practice bro bono work at public hearing Thursday.

A co-sponsor of the bi-partisan bill
, Democratic State Rep. Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie, said allowing district attorneys to provide those services could help address a shortage of attorneys in the state.

“This is another means in which our state can provide individuals appropriate legal representation,” he said.

Under current law, a full-time district attorney, deputy district attorney or assistant district attorney may not engage in the private practice of law. Assembly Bill 25 would allow those public figures to provide services to a person of limited means or to certain non-profit organizations, if the services are without fee and conflict of interest.

“Unfortunately, the DAs in our state in all 72 counties are not allowed to undertake pro bono work because of a perceived conflict of interest,” Hebl said.

Opponents of the bill said allowing lawyers to practice private law could create a conflict of interest. Andrea Kaminski, the legislative coordinator for League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, sent NBC15 a statement that read in part:

“It is true that there is a great need for pro bono legal services in Wisconsin, but this bill would not put a huge dent in that need. On the other hand, it could seriously undermine public confidence in our public officials,” she said.

NBC15 called several district attorneys within our viewing area. Green Co. District Attorney Craig Nolen was the only one to call back Thursday. He said he is not directly opposed to the bill, but a concern he has is his department is already understaffed. He said he does not believe prosecutors would have the time to pursue the work.

Hebl said the next step will be to vote on the bill in committee, and then it will hopefully be on the Assembly floor within the next few months.