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Requesting legal assistance

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation accepts requests for legal assistance from people who have had their civil rights or civil liberties violated by a government entity in Wisconsin.  (If your complaint arose in a state other than Wisconsin, you must contact the ACLU office in that state. To find the appropriate ACLU affiliate, click here.) 

However, we unfortunately do not have the staff or trained volunteers necessary to respond to all of the requests, emails, phone calls and letters seeking legal help that we receive.  You should assume that we will be unable to offer representation unless you hear otherwise from us.  Due to our extremely limited resources, we are able to provide representation in only a very small number of cases each year.  If we do not respond to your inquiry or take your case, that does not necessarily mean your case is without merit. You may wish to contact other legal organizations or a private lawyer about your case.

Among the issues we work on are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, privacy, discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation or disability, police misconduct, censorship in school or libraries, fairness in application of school discipline, access to government documents, inhumane jail and prison conditions, and other issues of fair treatment by government.

Please carefully read the information below to learn which types of cases we accept and how to request help.

Types of cases we generally do not accept:

  • A situation where a person has been fired from a job without a good reason or just cause;
  • A situation where a person is being denied benefits, such as workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits;
  • Criminal cases, or complaints about a person’s attorney in a criminal case. We consider accepting criminal cases only in limited instances, such as, for example, when a person is being prosecuted for engaging in activity protected by the Constitution – such as participating in a political demonstration.
  • Cases with serious factual disputes. We tend to take cases that do not involve complicated disputes of fact, and prefer cases that involve questions of law only. An example of a factual dispute is an employment discrimination case in which the employer claims he fired the employee because of poor job performance and has credible evidence to support that claim, but the employee disputes the evidence.

Types of cases we consider

We generally file cases that affect the civil liberties or rights of large numbers of people, rather than those that involve a dispute between individual parties. Basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case include:

  • Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue?
  • What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
  • Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?

Examples of types of cases we might accept

Police practices and prisoners’ rights – clients may include a coalition of minority residents affected by racial profiling by local police, or a group of incarcerated people in a jail or prison who are regularly denied adequate treatment for mental or physical health conditions.

Free speech and association – clients may include demonstrators who experience unreasonable force by police, student journalists who are disciplined for writing a critical article about their school, or protesters who are arrested or issued citations for participating in constitutionally protected activity.

Immigrants’ rights – clients may include individuals who experience discrimination by local police who threaten immigration raids.

LGBT rights – clients may include couples on the statewide domestic partner registry, or students denied the right to organize a Gay Straight Alliance at their public school.

Racial justice – clients may include minority residents of a neighborhood who experience health problems related to pollution from public utilities like coal plants or people of color who are denied affordable housing or public transit in a government’s development planning.

Freedom of religion – clients may include students who are denied their right to pray in school, individuals who experience discrimination at airports due to their perceived race or religion, or students who object to school-sponsored religious events.

Reproductive freedom – clients may include women who are denied equal access to contraception through their insurance plan or a government agency that refuses to hire pregnant women.

Voting rights – clients may include individuals who are denied their right to vote based on discriminatory voter ID laws or voters who are denied their right to vote based on a disability or language barrier.

Youth rights and equal education – clients may include students with disabilities who are systematically denied equal access to voucher schools, students who wear controversial buttons or t-shirts to school with a political message, or young people affected by racial profiling.

Important information about deadlines

All legal claims have deadlines, which depend on the nature of the claim, the type of violation, and which specific rights were violated. For some types of violations, you may need to file a notice or pursue other administrative remedies with a government agency before you can file a lawsuit. To ensure that your rights are protected, you may need to consult with an attorney promptly to find out which deadlines apply in your case. If you do not comply with the applicable deadlines, you could be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court. Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that ACLU attorneys represent you, and contacting the ACLU does not stop the clock on these deadlines. The ACLU cannot provide you with advice about which deadlines might apply to your particular situation. 

Can the ACLU give me legal advice?

If we do not accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you advice about your case, answer questions, or provide other types of assistance. For example, we cannot review documents or conduct legal research to assist you. This allows us to direct the necessary resources to the cases we do accept.

How to request help from the ACLU of Wisconsin

Please note, again, that we do not accept walk-ins. If you believe your case falls within the guidelines above, please either fill out an online form or print a copy and mail it to us at the address below.

ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation – Legal Department
207 E. Buffalo St. #325
Milwaukee, WI 53202-5774

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