SAWYER COUNTY -- On Monday, October 29, 2018, Sawyer County Circuit Court Judge John Yackel issued an Order to Show Cause (OTSC) to the Wisconsin State Public Defender (WSPD) ordering that a representative appear in Sawyer County Circuit Court and answer as to the egregious delay in appointing an attorney to represent an indigent individual charged with felony crimes.


In the OTSC obtained by, Judge Yackel states that a Sawyer County Defendant was placed on a $1,000 cash bond on July 24, 2018, and posted that bond on July 31, 2018. The Defendant was released from the Sawyer County Jail but is required on condition of bail to test daily to ensure they are maintaining absolute sobriety. The Defendant is indigent and qualifies for the appointment of an Attorney by the WSPD.

On October 23, 2018, the Defendant appeared in Circuit Court for a status conference and the Court was informed by the WSPD Office in Spooner that an Attorney search was conducted statewide.  Over 900 Attorneys were contacted, however, they were not able to secure an Attorney for the Defendant.

A Constitutional Crisis

Judge Yackel states in the OTSC that even though over 90 days have passed, a $1,000 cash bond was imposed, and at least 80 days have elapsed since the expiration of the Defendant's preliminary hearing, the present situation can accurately be described as a “Constitutional crisis.”  

The Judge says that this has been an ongoing issue for the last year in Sawyer County and has steadily worsened to the point where the economic impact may have “future and irreversible consequences.”

Sawyer County Circuit Court has appointed 116 Private Attorneys (PDF) for those Defendants who qualify for a Public Defender in the past calendar year.

Sawyer County has paid for those Attorneys appointed and the Sawyer County Circuit Court has sought reimbursement from the WSPD.  Prior to October 9, 2018, they have only received “partial” re-payment for this, according to the OTSC. However, the WSPD has denied all reimbursement to Sawyer County since that time.

Furthermore, Legal Counsel for the WSPD notified the Sawyer County Circuit Court in a letter (PDF) that any future appointment of Attorneys made and subsequent request for reimbursement to Sawyer County would not occur unless the WSPD had the “opportunity to share with the Circuit Court its efforts to find counsel for that individual before an appointment of Counsel.”

Judge Yackel stated that pursuant to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin:

  • A criminal Defendant has the fundamental right to have an attorney
  • A criminal Defendant has the fundamental right to demand a speedy trial
  • A criminal Defendant has the fundamental right to substantive due process

Yackel also states that the WSPD is required to appoint an attorney for an indigent criminal Defendant, adding that despite the protections of the 5th and 6th Amendments of the Constitution, Defendants are experiencing undue delay in the appointment of an Attorney and that this jeopardizes the fundamental rights protected by the Constitution.

Tax Impact

Judge Yackel states in the OTSC that the citizens of Sawyer County are subjected to State taxes and are required through those taxes to support and fund the WSPD (a State Agency), as do all citizens in Wisconsin.  However, Sawyer County residents do not receive the same services from the WSPD as other counties resulting in an “unfair and inequitable burden being placed” on Sawyer County residents by having to pay for the appointment of an Attorney — even though a criminal Defendant is indigent and qualifies for appointment of an Attorney through the WSPD and paid for by the State of Wisconsin.

Judge Yackel was recently a guest on via Facebook Live and addressed the significance and severity of this issue and the WSPD’s failure to comply with the Constitutional rights of indigent individuals by providing Attorneys in a timely manner, as well as speaking on the economic impact that has on Sawyer County taxpayers.

Judge Yackel on Public Defender Crisis

[6-Min] Judge Yackel (left) chats with hosts Terry Dryden (middle) and Ben Dryden (right)

Watch the entire hour-long chat with Judge Yackel by clicking here (Facebook)

Court Transcript

In a transcript obtained by of a hearing held in Sawyer County Circuit Court on October 23, 2018, Judge Yackel said that when he is forced to make a “Dean” appointment to have a Private Attorney represent an individual facing criminal charges, Sawyer County citizens pay for that.

“My taxes are being paid for the Public Defenders who are appointed to individuals that are alleged to have committed crimes in the County of Milwaukee, and the County of Manitowoc, and the County of La Crosse, and the County of Eau Claire, and the County of Dane. My taxes go to fund those public defenders. But yet when somebody commits a crime allegedly in Sawyer County, I get a double whammy because it is now my County taxes on a much smaller level that goes to pay that attorney.”

“There [are] two aspects to look at it,” Yackel said. “One, the taxpayers of Sawyer County are getting screwed.  Two, the alleged [indigent] Defendants who are charged with crimes in Sawyer County have to wait a disproportionate amount of time to get an Attorney.”

Read the entire 24-page court transcript

Note: To view in full-screen, click in the middle of the PDF viewer. Use the arrows on the edges of the PDF viewer to flip through the pages.

While emphasizing the severity of the issue, Judge Yackel also made it clear that his decision to issue an Order to Show Cause was not political, nor was it aimed at the staff of the WSPD, rather, the Order calls for the head of the WSPD Trial Division, or a designated representative, to appear at a hearing on January 7, 2019, and answer the Judge’s questions.

Cost-Shifting Scheme asked Judge Yackel if he felt as though the State is, in effect, attempting a cost-shifting scheme for Public Defenders, to which he replied: “I am not sure if they are consciously implementing a cost-shifting scheme, but the practical effect is that the States responsibility and cost is being passed onto the local counties and [that] is putting the safety of the community at risk.”

Yackel concluded saying that, “If a particular county does not yet feel this added cost, beware! It is only a matter of time."

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