Wisconsin Lawyer: A Personal Look Back at the Court of Appeals:

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    A Personal Look Back at the Court of Appeals

    In 1978 it was anticipated that each judge would hear 100 cases per year. That figure has now doubled. Appellate judges have less time available to consider each case and must rely on the lawyers - and the organization and quality of their presentations - more than ever before.

    William Eich

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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 2, February 2003

    A Personal Look Back at the Court of Appeals

    In 1978 it was anticipated that each judge would hear 100 cases per year. That figure has now doubled. Appellate judges have less time available to consider each case and must rely on the lawyers - and the organization and quality of their presentations - more than ever before.

    by Judge William Eich

    When the Wisconsin Court of Appeals was created in 1978, it was anticipated that its 12 judges would hear 900 to 1,200 cases per year. The figure was based on studies indicating that 100 cases per judge per year is just about the maximum that any appellate court can effectively handle. Seven years later, in 1985, when I joined the court (after 11 years as a circuit court judge in Madison), it was handling slightly more than 2,000 cases. In 2002, that figure topped 3,300, and even though the size of the court has increased from 12 to 16 judges, case filings have far outpaced the increase in the number of judges available to hear them. The case-per-judge figure is now more than 200. And the court's staff resources have been similarly limited.

    What this means, of course, is that the judges have less time available for consideration of each case and must rely on the lawyers - and the organization and quality of their presentations - more than ever before. And the appellate bar has been generally very responsive to these needs. As the adjacent article suggests, there is room for improvement in appellate lawyering, just as there is in appellate judging; but, for the most part, both elements of the equation have risen to the task.

    William 


EichWilliam Eich, U.W. 1963, an appellate and trial court judge for more than 26 years, was chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals from 1989 to 1998. Retiring from the court in 2000, he maintains an active arbitration/mediation practice in Madison and consults regularly with Wisconsin and out-of-state attorneys and firms on brief writing, oral argument, and other aspects of appellate practice. Much of the material in this article has been condensed from speeches and lectures given at the State Bar of Wisconsin and judicial conferences in Wisconsin and other states and in appellate advocacy courses at the U.W. and Marquette Law Schools. Judge Eich is a member of the State Bar's Appellate Practice and Alternative Dispute Resolution sections, and its Media-Law Relations Committee.

    Lawyers practicing before the court have honed their interest in appellate advocacy by conducting seminars around the state, inviting the judges to meet with them to discuss elements of appellate practice, and, of course, establishing the State Bar's Appellate Section, where they continue to work to promote and advance their craft - and with it, the appellate justice system itself.

    The court remains responsive to these efforts. Most importantly, I think, it remains close to the people it was created to serve. In the three multi-county districts (II, III, and IV), the panels hear cases in several counties, sometimes in unusual locations. In my district, District IV, for example, we have heard oral arguments at the University of Wisconsin, and we traveled to Beloit College each fall for the same purpose. We sent out copies of the briefs ahead of time to facilitate pre-argument student-faculty seminars (at Beloit, the seminars were conducted by the college president himself, a former practicing lawyer), and concluded each day with a question-and-answer coffee with the students. The judges loved it, as did the lawyers involved in the cases. They were wonderfully cooperative and supportive, traveling to Beloit at their own expense and staying on after court to meet and talk with the students.

    Beyond that, court of appeals judges regularly meet with trial judges, lawyers, and bar associations in their districts and are active in moot court and a variety of public-education efforts to promote greater understanding of the court's role in today's society. Many participate in the Inns of Court program and are regular speakers on legal and judicial issues before school organizations and local service clubs. I have particularly enjoyed serving for the past several years as an adviser to the "We the People" program sponsored by Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin State Journal, in which citizens from all over the state are brought to Madison to learn about and discuss issues in supreme court elections, concluding the day with seven citizens sitting on the bench in the supreme court hearing room and questioning the candidates on statewide television.

    For these, and a host of other reasons, I believe the court of appeals has lived up to one of the primary reasons for which it was established: to bring the basic level of appellate adjudication closer to the people - not only to the litigants and lawyers, but to citizens throughout Wisconsin. And it has done so while maintaining a responsible and thoughtful approach to its decisional responsibilities. Although I am no longer a part of the court, I remain, as I believe we all should be, very proud of its accomplishments on this, the eve of the 25th anniversary of its creation.

    Editor's Note: In 2003, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals celebrates its 25th anniversary. Watch for upcoming articles on this and other significant legal anniversaries as the Wisconsin Lawyer undertakes a year-long effort to commemorate Wisconsin's legal history. Participate in the celebration by sharing your thoughts about the impact of the court of appeals on Wisconsin's justice system. Please email your contributions to the editors at org wislawyer wisbar wisbar wislawyer org.




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