The 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 became an independent agency in 1977. The appellate functions were transferred into the agency from the Supreme Court and, at the trial level, the agency began to open local trial offices the following year in 1978. The SPD uses both staff attorneys and private attorneys (certified to accept SPD appointments) in fulfilling Wisconsin’s constitutional obligation regarding legal representation of the indigent.
The SPD is overseen by the Public Defender Board, which consists of nine members appointed to three-year terms by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. At least five of the nine must be members of the State Bar of Wisconsin. The Public Defender Board submits the budget for the agency and appoints the Wisconsin State Public Defender.