Vol. 81, No. 4, April 2008
Letters to the editor:
The Wisconsin Lawyer publishes as many letters in each issue as space permits. Please limit letters to 500 words; letters may be edited for length and clarity. Letters should address the issues, and not be a personal attack on others. Letters endorsing political candidates cannot be accepted. Please mail letters to " Letters to the Editor," Wisconsin Lawyer, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158, fax them to (608) 257-4343, or email
Problems in Judicial System Now at Critical Mass
The Wisconsin Lawyer has now in some fashion or another reported on the shortage of judges in the state and the adverse conditions under which they work; the woes that have fallen on the state public defender's office and lawyers who accept appointments from the office; the corresponding issues with people who are indigent but who are not indigent enough to qualify for legal representation; and in the March issue we were informed of the crisis with district attorney offices throughout the state.
It seems to me things have now reached a critical mass. Our entire judicial system, not just the criminal branch, seems to be collapsing. Much of the burden to repair it falls on the legislature, but some problems can be remedied by the professions themselves.
The legislature can start to address some issues just by allocating sufficient funds. But throwing more money at the judicial system is not a solution in itself. The legislature also needs to assess and prioritize what our tax dollars should pay for. Perhaps part of the solution to reduce costs is to decriminalize certain crimes, alternatively we could allow the federal government to handle certain matters exclusively, or perhaps there is a way to revamp the juvenile system to lighten the burden on Wisconsin courts.
While the legislature is addressing their issues, what we all need to do is think in alternative fashions. District attorney offices could make greater use of paralegals, diversion programs, and more careful screening of which cases truly merit prosecution. The judges for the various counties must have many ideas to obtain greater efficiency in the courts that can be implemented. (Personally, I always thought that Milwaukee could use a communication system, such as a court Web site or recorded phone line, to tell all of us if the court is tied up with a trial and thus there is no need to rush to court only to sit and wait for hours until the matter is called, all the while billing hours to private clients, the state, the county, or the city.)
No matter what solutions are out there, or whose ideas they are, the point that needs to be harped upon is that the matter is now critical and must be addressed immediately by all parties. And while I recognize that the state of Wisconsin is in serious financial difficulty, if such matters are not addressed immediately, I predict that the court system will in fact totally collapse and much sooner rather than later.
Stephanie G. Rapkin, Mequon