A man walked into a bar with his alligator and asked the bartender, Do you serve lawyers here?
Sure do, replied the bartender.
Good, said the man. Give me a beer, and I'll have a lawyer for my 'gator.

Tired of lawyers, Wis. lawmaker wants to cut law school's funding

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A lawmaker who persuaded the Assembly to eliminate all state funding for the University of Wisconsin law school says his reasoning is simple: There's too many lawyers in Wisconsin.

"We don't need more ambulance chasers. We don't need frivolous lawsuits. And we don't need attorneys making people's lives miserable when they go to family court for divorces," said Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Green Bay. "And I think that having too many attorneys leads to all those bad results."

Objection! Law School Dean Kenneth Davis said Thursday. Davis said the plan would either force the school to jack up its tuition by $5,000 per year or cut essential programs.

Overruled! Lasee's colleagues in the Republican-controlled Assembly included his plan Tuesday in their version of the two-year, $56 billion state budget, which they approved on a 51-44 vote.

The plan appears to have little chance at surviving negotiations between the Assembly and Democratic-controlled Senate and being included in the Legislature's final budget.

Even if it did, Gov. Jim Doyle would likely veto it. Doyle, whose late mother was a beloved administrator at the law school, said Thursday that the plan was "a really bizarre thing that came out of nowhere."

Lasee said the proposal would gradually reduce a $7 million annual state subsidy for the law school, starting with a $1 million cut this year. Funding would be cut by $2 million more each year and eliminated in 2010.

But Davis said he believes Lasee's numbers are flawed: The school receives only $2.5 million per year in state funding, or 10 percent of its $20 million budget. Still, it would have to increase its $12,600 annual tuition, which is the lowest in the Big 10 Conference and enables many low-income students to attend.

"That would be a very bitter pill to swallow for us," Davis said. "We have a national reputation for access to legal education."

UW-Madison has the only public law school in the state. Marquette University in Milwaukee houses the state's only other law school.

Lasee said he would welcome a significant tuition increase for prospective lawyers or a cut in the school's 810-student enrollment.

"When we have an overabundance of attorneys already, there's no point in subsidizing the education of more attorneys," Lasee said.

More than 14,000 Wisconsin residents are practicing lawyers, according to the American Bar Association, which puts the state in the middle of the pack nationally for its overall number of attorneys.

Davis said the law school has educated many political and business leaders and was proud of its record.

Its alumni include former Gov. Tommy Thompson, six out of seven state Supreme Court justices and several of Lasee's colleagues. Two of them - Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, and Rep. Sheryl Albers, R-Reedsburg - voted for the budget that slashed their alma mater's funding.

Albers called the cut "absurd" but said she could not find a way to restore the money.

The proposal, made public the day before the vote, prompted wide speculation. Was a lawmaker angry the school rejected him? Were the cuts retaliation against professors who called a sex offender tracking law unconstitutional? Were they punishing the Innocence Project for freeing a man who later killed a 25-year-old woman?

"Somebody has some personal beef," the governor speculated Thursday.

Lasee said he had floated the idea previously and nobody has an ax to grind.

"They're trying to make us look petty," he said. "It isn't petty. It's about the big picture. We have too many attorneys clogging our court system and hurting our citizens looking for work for themselves."

In his seventh two-year term, Lasee, 45, has a knack for making headlines. He drew national attention last year when he suggested arming teachers in response to a string of school shootings. He's best known as an anti-tax crusader who has unsuccessfully pushed a constitutional amendment to limit government spending.

UW System spokesman David Giroux said the cut was one of many Assembly Republicans stuffed into their no-tax increase budget, including eliminating funding for public television and radio programming.

"Our only public law school would have no public funding. That makes no sense to me," Giroux said. "Belt-tightening is one thing. Noose-tightening is another. To come after some of these programs in such a vengeful way is really not helpful and not productive."