July 24, 2013 – In response to the recent electrical fire at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, several judges and staff members have been working around-the-clock to provide residents with much needed court system services.
“Our dedicated judges and staff made all the difference in the world to the people of Milwaukee County, who rely on the courts each day for everything from performing wedding ceremonies to resolving criminal and civil cases of all sort,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in a recent court statement. “Sometimes it takes a situation like this to appreciate and realize how much is actually happening in our courthouses and the work that is being done.”
Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers went well beyond the call of duty on July 10, as a couple arrived at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in search of someone to perform their wedding ceremony. The couple did not have a marriage license, so Kremers took it upon himself to track down Milwaukee County Clerk Joseph Czarnezki – who was personally looking after all marriage licenses while the courthouse was closed – to obtain a license. Once the license was in hand, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Noonan performed the ceremony.
Abrahamson happened to be in Milwaukee that day surveying the fire damage and saw the situation unfold: “By 4 p.m., the wedding party that was dejected at 3 p.m. was laughing and high-fiving each other when the papers were signed, and the ceremony was complete.”
There have been many other similar stories coming out of the courthouse over the past two weeks. In fact, several other judges and court officials helped perform weddings during the closure. Felony Court Coordinator Mary Jo Swider, Michelle Smith and Becky Dudzik all contributed to the various ceremonies.
Katie Stenz is the public affairs coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org kstenz wisbar wisbar kstenz org, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.
More than a thousand employees had to stay away from the courthouse for the majority of the week after the fire, although Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) staff and 911 dispatchers had to react immediately. Both departments powered through the outage by rerouting and relocating. CCAP staff worked remotely, which helped Milwaukee Children’s Court stay abreast of their cases. 911 dispatchers, meanwhile, have been operating out of Waukesha County. Slowly, various departments are beginning to move back in and reopen their doors.
Kremers said that his staff “did an amazing job to get these buildings back on line in a week.”
The fire started on July 6 in a basement utility room at the courthouse. It is estimated that it will cost $2 million to repair the building. Crews have been working through the past few weekends to restore power to the courthouse and reduce the need for portable generators.
For more information about courthouse services over the next week, view the following notice from the Milwaukee County Executive Office:
· Criminal, Family, Small Claims Cases and Jury Trials are running as normal.
· Large Claims Cases will resume Monday, July 22nd.
· The Probate Department will be open in room 207 on Monday, July 22nd from 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
· All Jurors should enter the Courthouse through the Wells Street door and bring your Jury Summons.
· The Courthouse Cafeteria will be closed but there are food options at the nearby Public Museum, MATC Café and Central Library Cafe and we have invited Food Trucks to park close by.
· District Attorney’s Office, Clerk of Circuit Court and Child Support Services will have standard hours.
· County Clerk, Register of Deeds and Treasurer will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Until further notice, access to the 10th Street entrance to the Courthouse will be restricted. Only necessary repair and restoration staff will be allowed through the doors. All other employees and the public can use the 9th and Wells Street entrances to the Courthouse. People can also enter through the Safety Building or Criminal Justice Facility and use the skywalk to the Courthouse. The Criminal Justice Facility entrance is handicap accessible.
Volunteers and donations from outside businesses are helping employees and people who visit the Courthouse Complex stay cool in the heat. Thank you to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, MillerCoors, Beer Capital Distribution and Artic Glacier.
There will be a strict curfew over the weekend at the Courthouse and Safety Building. Both buildings are closed and they will have planned power outages.
The Criminal Justice Facility will be open as normal.