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  • Joint Finance recommends elimination of Judicial Council staff attorney

    Adam Korbitz

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    Joint Finance recommends elimination 
of Judicial Council staff attorneyApril 27, 2011 – The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has approved eliminating the staff attorney position for the Wisconsin Judicial Council (council), four years after the Legislature restored the position in 2007.

    Commencing its voting on Governor Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-13 biennial budget, the JFC voted 12-4 along party lines to approve a motion by Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) to eliminate the position.

    In 2007, the Legislature restored staff support to the council when it passed the 2007-2009 biennial budget, more than 12 years after first abolishing the staff position in 1995. The council subsequently hired a full-time staff attorney in May 2008. The 2009-11 biennial budget, signed into law in June 2009, continued the funding for the council staff attorney, a move that the State Bar supported.

    On April 26, State Bar President Jim Boll issued a statement voicing disappointment with the vote and urged the JFC to reconsider, noting the council’s success in pursuing legislation and complex rule-making petitions.

    In the three years that the Council has had a full-time staff attorney, it has successfully completed several important projects, including new Wisconsin Supreme Court rules governing the discovery of electronically stored information.  The new rules took effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

    In April 2010, the Supreme Court also approved another rule-making petition filed by the council, this one relating to the confidentiality of communications made in mediation. And in November 2009, three new laws took effect that had originated as bills introduced at the request of the council and drafted with its assistance. The three acts — 2009 Wisconsin Acts 25, 26 and 27 — all made various changes to the rules of appellate procedure. Enactment of these new rules capped a process that began 13 years ago when the council's appellate procedure committee first began studying the issue. This task was not completed until the council could hire a staff attorney.

    In January 2009, the supreme court approved another council petition, this one to permit the citation of unpublished appellate decisions for their persuasive value. The rule took effect July 1, 2009.

    Many projects still in the works

    In addition to these recent contributions, the council has other projects in various stages of development, including proposals to improve the procedures and rules governing the use of presentence investigation reports before and after sentencing. The council is also studying possible new rules governing the ghostwriting of legal documents.

    The council's criminal procedure committee has been working for several years on a proposed comprehensive revision of the rules of criminal procedure. A draft proposal is currently undergoing final editing by the Legislative Reference Bureau. The council is also continuing work on a comprehensive review of the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence, with the goal of recommending amendments that reflect current case law and keep the rules cohesive and consistent with modern practice.

    Council history and membership

    The state Legislature created the council in 1951 to advise the state supreme court and the Legislature on issues affecting the administration of justice. The council recommends legislation to change the procedure, jurisdiction or organization of the courts. It also studies the rules of pleading, practice and procedure and advises the supreme court on how to simplify procedures to promote the speedy resolution of litigation. Four seats on the 21-member council are delegated to the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    Under section 758.13, Wis. Stats., the council is comprised of a supreme court justice; a court of appeals judge; four circuit court judges; one district attorney; three members designated by the State Bar; two citizen members; and all of the following individuals (or their designees): the Director of State Courts, the chairs of the Senate and Assembly standing committees with jurisdiction over judicial affairs, the Attorney General, the chief of the Legislative Reference Bureau, the deans of the law schools of the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University, the State Public Defender, and the president-elect of the State Bar. The council is currently chaired by Milwaukee attorney Beth Ermatinger Hanan.

    Several council members serve at the pleasure of their appointing authorities. The four circuit judges selected by the Judicial Conference serve four-year terms. The three members selected by the State Bar and the two citizen members appointed by the governor serve three-year terms.

    In addition to Attorney Hanan, current council members designated by the State Bar are: Attorney Nicholas C. Zales (designated by President-elect James M. Brennan); Attorney Catherine A. LaFleur; and Attorney Tom W. Bertz.

    Continue to monitor WisBar.org and visit the State Bar’s Government Relations page for updated information on these issues.

    By Adam Korbitz, Government Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Related articles:

    State Bar responds to Governor Walker’s proposed state budget - March 9, 2011
    Judicial Council looks back on another successful year - July 26, 2010
    Supreme Court approves discovery rules to address electronically stored information - May 4, 2010
    Supreme Court approves Judicial Council, BBE rule-making petitions - April 30, 2010
    Scope of proposed electronic discovery rules debated at public hearing - Feb. 3, 2010
    Proposed Rules for Electronic Discovery - (Wisconsin Lawyer, December 2009)
    Judicial Council takes stock of recent successes, looks to future challenges - September 16, 2009
    Understanding new appellate procedure rules - Sept. 3, 2009
    Three bills amending and clarifying appellate procedures signed into law - June 26, 2009


    Rotunda Report is the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Government Relations e-newsletter that highlights legislative, judicial, and administrative developments that impact the legal profession and the justice system. It is published twice a month and is distributed free to attorneys, public officials and others who help shape public policy in Wisconsin. We invite your org pubaffairs wisbar suggestions to make the Rotunda Report more informative and useful and we encourage you to visit our Web site for the most current information about justice-related issues.

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