Nov. 7, 2019 – In the annual State of the Judiciary Address, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack had a lot of activity to report, from state budget wins to successful pilot projects, from e-filing to research and statistics.
The chief justice’s address yesterday kicked off the 2019 Wisconsin Judicial Conference, which is focused on science and the courts and how aspects of neuroscience can help the court system address complex challenges.
The State of the Judiciary transcript is available at the Wisconsin Courts website, but this article provides brief summaries of the topics covered in the address.
E-filing. Chief Justice Roggensack noted that the Consolidated Court Automation Program (CCAP) is close to implementing e-filing at the appellate court level. E-filing of court documents is mandatory in the circuit courts.
Research and Statistics. The chief justice noted that the judicial branch hired Dr. Michael Thompson last year as director of research and justice statistics and Dr. Thompson “will engage in many projects designed to assess whether Wisconsin courts are doing the best we can for those who come before our courts.”
Business Court. A three-year Business Court/Commercial Docket Pilot Project that began in 2017 has been “very beneficial for business-related parties,” Chief Justice Roggensack noted. Seven circuit court judges with business law backgrounds serve as judges in the Business Court, which currently operate in the Eighth Judicial Administrative District and Waukesha County. She said many business/commercial cases that might take three years on the regular docket are seeing resolutions within a year. “Our only problem is that the docket is very underutilized,” the chief justice said. The court is working on lawyer awareness – educating attorneys on what types of cases can be filed in business court – and will be considering whether to expand the docket.
Child Welfare. Chief Justice Roggensack said the Children Court Improvement Project “continues to move forward with innovative programs to help children and families who need judicial assistance.” She noted that the Judicial Engagement Team (JET) – which focuses on safely reducing the number of children in foster care by giving individualized assistance to families in the child welfare system – is now operating in eight counties.
Treatment Courts. The chief justice noted that “treatment courts continue to address the extraordinary loss of life through death or overwhelming disability that opioids, methamphetamine and alcohol are producing in Wisconsin.”
Judicial Salaries. Judges will get a pay raise in January 2020 and another one in January 2021, the result of a budget request and ultimate support from the legislature and the governor. According to the National Center for State Courts, Wisconsin ranked 41st among states with respect to pay for trial court judges (as of July 2019).
Attorney Compensation. Chief Justice Roggensack noted the court’s role in helping to increase the hourly rate paid to private bar attorneys who take public defender cases, from $40 to $70. In 1978, four decades ago, the hourly rate was $35 per hour.
More District Attorneys. The chief justice noted the court’s role in obtaining legislature and governor’s approval for 65 new assistant district attorney positions.
More Money for Court-Appointed Attorneys. Last year, the court (on petition) increased the hourly rate paid to court-appointed attorneys, such as cases in which a guardian ad litem is needed, from $70 to $100. The chief justice noted the court’s role in securing state budget funds, an additional $3.6 million, to help counties pay for it.
New Website for Lavinia Goodall. The chief justice highlighted the launch of a new website, laviniagoodell.com, to showcase the Wisconsin first woman lawyer. The site contains information collected through the dedicated research of Supreme Court Commissioner Nancy Kopp and attorney Colleen Ball of the State Public Defenders Office. Their work was recently featured by Wisconsin Lawyer magazine’s annual article on legal innovation.