The Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office (SPD) provides legal representation for persons who are accused of crimes or are defendants in certain specified civil matters, and who meet statutory financial eligibility criteria.
The SPD was created by statute in 1965. Until 1972, the office consisted of one attorney, an employee of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who represented indigents seeking post-conviction relief. Counties were responsible for indigent defense at the trial level, which was provided by assigned counsel.
The SPD became an independent agency in 1977, and gradually began to represent indigents at the trial level (still with private attorneys). In 1979, the state provided funding for the public defender program and established a certain proportion of each county’s indigent cases to be handled by public and private counsel. The program had a sunset date of November 1985, at which time the appointment of indigent defense would have reverted back to exclusive appointment of private attorneys.
In 1985, the sunset was repealed and the SPD’s responsibilities were expanded from 47 counties to the entire state.