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    State of the Judiciary: Chief Justice Highlights Court Efforts on Opioid Crisis


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    Nov. 17, 2017 – Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack delivered the annual State of the Judiciary Address this week, highlighting court efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that plagues Wisconsin and the country.

    The statistics are dire, the chief justice noted. Heroin deaths in Wisconsin nearly quadrupled from 2008 to 2014. In 2015, Wisconsin had more than 281 heroin deaths. Between 2010 and 2014, heroin-related deaths rose 175 percent in the U.S.  

    Although heroin is a major problem, the chief justice noted that prescription opioids, such as oxycontin and hydrocodone, often “begin the cycle of addiction” and are often prescribed to manage pain at home without the supervision of health care professionals.

    In 2015, the chief justice noted, prescription opioids caused more related hospitalizations and deaths than heroin. And the opioid epidemic doesn’t just impact the user. It impacts the user’s family, including children, and the broader community.

    Wisconsin courts are responding. “As the opioid crisis has hit Wisconsin, our courts have risen to the challenge – not just in regard to handling the crimes that often follow such addictions, but also in regard to significant efforts to turn around the lives of those who have become addicted,” Chief Justice Roggensack said.

    She noted the Brown County Heroin Treatment Court, created through the efforts of Judge Thomas Walsh. Judge Walsh wrote about the Brown County Heroin Treatment Court in Wisconsin Lawyer™. His article, “In the Crosshairs: Heroin’s Impact on Wisconsin’s Criminal Justice System,” received the Wisconsin Lawyer’s highest award.

    Chief Justice Roggensack also noted other court efforts around the state, including the Milwaukee County Circuit Court’s Family Drug Treatment Court. It operates in children’s court, which assists the children of addicted parents.

    The Milwaukee court recently started a Healthy Infant Court, which intervenes to help traumatized children from birth to three years who have been removed from their homes and will likely face future mental health, substance abuse, or other problems.

    And the chief justice noted other initiatives through the Children Court Improvement Project, which aims to improve child welfare through legal and social service agencies, including an initiative to increase focus on a decision-making model for child safety.

    The court system also continues its work on trauma-informed decision making, Chief Justice Roggensack said. “Trauma-informed decision making is a multi-disciplinary concept that the courts utilize in concert with others so that we can better understand those who come before Wisconsin courts, the chief justice said.

    “As you can see, the Wisconsin court system has no spectators, but rather a full complement of hard-working judges and court personnel,” the chief justice said.

    Court Funding

    Chief Justice Roggensack noted the Wisconsin Legislature allocated requested funding to the Wisconsin Court System and provided a modest pay increase for judges.

    But the head of Wisconsin’s judiciary said that the court funding issue is ongoing, especially since federal funding for certain court programs is unpredictable. For instance, aspects of the Children Court Improvement Program may not be funded.

    “[U]nless the federal government moves quickly, we will need to find funds within what the Legislature has allocated to us in order to prevent a temporary loss of those programs,” said Chief Justice Roggensack, noting that the Director of State Courts Office is reviewing court operations and funding to maximize court services.

    Other Court Initiatives

    Chief Justice Roggensack said an ongoing examination of the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) continues. A review committee reviewing OLR procedures and structure to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and fairness.

    The business court, or commercial docket pilot project has been running since July in Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Marinette, Oconto, Outagamie, Waukesha, and Waupaca counties. The chief justice said eight cases are pending on the commercial docket.

    All 72 counties now have mandatory e-filing in civil, small claims, family, paternity, criminal, traffic, and forfeiture cases. By March 1, 2018, the chief justice expects that 65 counties will have mandatory e-filing in probate matters.

    The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Oversight Committee has released a report outlining recommendations regarding access to court records, which are public.

    A transcript of Chief Justice Roggensack’s 2017 State of the Judiciary Address is available on the Wisconsin Court System website, www.wicourts.gov, or right here.