Aug. 18, 2021 – All the circuit courts in Wisconsin have been open for in-person proceedings since June, including jury trials, according to the Wisconsin Director of State Courts Judge Randy Koschnick, who provides an update in this interview.
“The most significant change in the past two or three months has been that all circuit courts are now open for jury trials. Those have been delayed or impeded because of the pandemic, of course, over the past 18 months or so,” Judge Koschnick said.
“Circuit courts are also still using Zoom for some proceedings,” he said. “We've learned through the pandemic, out of necessity, that by using Zoom and circuit court eFiling, that electronic communications is much more efficient in many ways.”
Koschnick noted that courts have remained operational throughout the pandemic, through Zoom proceedings, which has minimized the backlog.
But Judge Koschnick said there is still a backlog that is being monitored. “We're monitoring it and we don't think it's catastrophic,” he said. “Now that cases are being set for jury trials, the backlog is really diminishing, which is to be expected,” he said.
“We're working with the bar, the judges, and the support personnel in the courts to address it as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Judge Koschnick said.
“It’s going to take some work – we've got to monitor our caseload and our case flow – but I think we're going to be fine. There's no catastrophic backlog where people are having their day in court unreasonably delayed.”
Judge Koschnick – who has provided periodic COVID-related updates to the State Bar over the course of the last 18 months – noted that some circuit courts are still operating under special COVID-19 safety plans – with may include mask mandates, for instance.
But the majority of circuit courts have repealed their safety plans. Koschnick said his office continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation, including the Delta variant, and local circuit courts would have the authority to reissue safety plans if necessary.
The state supreme court, as it did when the pandemic began, could also reissue statewide court mandates under its administrative authority.
“The judges generally prefer local control, because they can decide what’s best for their county. They are elected officials and are in a good position to make those local decisions,” Judge Koschnick said.
But he also said a lot of attorneys who practice in multiple counties promoted the idea of a statewide order to give them some continuity between counties.
“I can understand that. There’s pros and cons both ways,” he said. “I think the preference of the supreme court, based upon their previous orders and decisions, is for local control, by circuit court judges, whenever that is practicable and reasonable.”
Judge Koschnick noted eFiling in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals is now mandatory, as of July 1, 2021. (See “What You Need to Know: Mandatory Appellate Court eFiling Begins July 1” – Wisconsin Lawyer, June 2021).
“The appellate eFiling system is based on the circuit court eFiling system, so for attorneys who have been practicing in circuit court using the eFiling system – which has mandatory in circuit courts for a while – it should seem very familiar to them.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is still in a pilot phase with eFiling. “The goal is to get all courts in Wisconsin … on the eFiling system,” Judge Koschnick said.
Because of unique procedural requirements and practical concerns, the eFiling systems at each court level are different, but running on the same basic structure developed by the court system’s Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP), Koschnick said.
“People talk about Zoom quite a bit, and Zoom was critical to keep us operating during the pandemic,” Judge Koschnick added. “Another thing that really helped was eFiling.”
Judge Koschnick noted that the circuit court eFiling system, in place long before the pandemic hit, turned out to be even more useful than first imagined. “It allowed us to continue to operate while reducing the need for interpersonal interaction.” he said.
Questions about appellate eFiling? Go to www.wicourts.gov, where you will find an eFiling tab with information. If you can’t find answers there, contact the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.