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  • WisBar News
    September 27, 2022

    State Bar Board Discusses Bail Reform at First Meeting of Fiscal Year

    Members of the State Bar of Wisconsin's Board of Governors engaged in a substantive discussion of proposed revisions to the State Bar’s current position on bail reform at its first meeting of the fiscal year, Sept. 23 in Elkhart Lake.

    Jeff M. Brown

    Sept. 27, 2022 – Members of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors engaged in a substantive discussion of proposed revisions to the State Bar’s current position on bail reform at its first meeting of the fiscal year, Sept. 23 in Elkhart Lake.

    The 52-member board represents member-constituents in 16 districts and sets the organization’s policy positions. The board welcomed 17 new members this term.

    A previous board adopted the current policy position on bail reform in 2018. It says the organization “supports reforming bail and pretrial detention laws so as to move away from the use of cash bail and toward the use of a validated risk-assessment instrument as a basis for pretrial detention decisions.”

    District 2 Gov. Ryan Billings, chair of the board’s Policy Committee, told the board that five bail-related bills were submitted by legislators during the past legislative cycle.

    “We decided to poll the sections that might be interested in this policy to comment,” Billings said. “After further discussion, we did decide that the policy should be changed.”

    Revised Policy a Discussion Item

    Under the proposed revised position, recommended unanimously by the Policy Committee, the State Bar “supports reforming bail and pretrial detention laws to consider risk as the basis for pretrial detention. The State Bar supports bail and pretrial detention policies that reduce disparities based on poverty and race.”

    Jeff M. Brown Jeff M. Brown is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6126.

    Gov. Billings said the move away from the mention of specific risk-assessment came about because “we would rather legislate more broadly and talk about the concept of risk so we didn’t have to chase whatever current risk-assessment tools were available and prevalent at the time we changed the policy.”

    The third sentence of the proposed revisions, Billings said, was included to ensure the policy addresses the fact that bail and pretrial policies disproportionately affect poor people and racial minorities.

    He noted, however, that the Criminal Law Section voted unanimously on Sept. 21 to oppose a proposed revision in opposition of “excessive cash bail” because members interpreted the wording about “excessive cash bail” as representing a step back from supporting “to move away from the use of cash bail.”

    Billings said the Policy Committee plans to amend the wording of the proposed revised policy to address the concerns expressed by the Criminal Law Section, then bring the proposed revised policy back to the board at a future meeting.

    Marisol Gonzalez Castillo

    District 9 Governor Marisol Gonzalez Castillo speaks during the Sept. 23 State Board Bar of Governors meeting.

    Governors who spoke during the discussion pointed out that the cash bail system is designed to ensure the appearance of people for court appearances, and that bail-related risk assessments are designed to assess the risk to the community.

    President Margaret Hickey, who was a member of the Policy Committee during the bail reform discussion, said that the proposed policy revision was “purposely broad” to give the State Bar maximum flexibility in lobbying legislators on proposed legislation.

    “We can be more specific when it comes to a particular bill that comes up,” Hickey said. “This just allows our lobbyists to take a position.”

    No Action on Eviction Records Petition

    The board neither opposed nor supported a Wisconsin Supreme Court rules petition that would amend records retention rules for some eviction cases.

    Shanna Sanders

    District 12 Governor Shanna Sanders makes a point during the Sept. 23 State Bar Board of Governors meeting.

    Under Rules Petition 22-03, the records retention period for eviction cases in which no money judgment is entered would be shortened from 20 years to one year. Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc. filed the petition in March 2022.

    In a memo to the board, Billings said the Policy Committee received feedback from one section but noted the Supreme Court received 35 interested party letters. The Policy Committee, Billings said, decided to recommend that the Board of Governors take no position on the petition “because of the complexity of the issue.” The board accepted the recommendation and took no position on the petition.

    Board Fills Vacancy in District 5

    Dist. 5 Gov. Emily Loe resigned, effective Sept. 30, 2022. Two members filed statements of interest in the vacancy: Micabil Diaz-Martinez and Emily M. Iverson.

    The board elected Diaz-Martinez by majority to succeed Gov. Loe. Diaz-Martinez will serve out the remainder of Loe’s term, which ends on June 30, 2023.

    Emil Ovbiagele

    Emil Ovbiagele, Young Lawyers Division Representative, responds during a discussion of bail reform at the State Bar Board of Governor’s meeting on Sept. 23.

    Other Business

    • Reappointments to the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. The board reappointed two members to the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission: Howard Bichler and Judge Richard Sankovitz. Bichler and Sankovitz will serve staggered three-year terms. Bichler is the retired head of the Indian Law Office at Wisconsin Judicare and a former member of the Board of Governors. Sankovitz is a retired Milwaukee Circuit Court judge.

    • Board Approves Nomination Committee. The Board approved the following appointments by President Hickey to the Nomination Committee for the April 2023 election: President-elect Dean Dietrich; Marisol Gonzalez Castillo; Rochelle Johnson-Bent; Chris Rogers; and Nick Vivian.

    Dennis Puzz

    Dennis Puzz, Section Leaders Council Liaison, discusses the FY 2022 Sectional Annual Reports during the State Bar Board of Governor's meeting on Sept. 23. 

    • Board Approves Audit Committee. At the request of President Margaret Hickey, the board approved the appointment of the following members to the State Bar’s Audit Committee for fiscal year 2023: Tom Phillips (chair); Grant Birtch; Noah Fenceroy; Dave Gorwitz; Marcia Lucas; Melody Rute; and Dave Werwie.

    • Section Carryover Requests. The board approved various State Bar section requests to carry over more than $25,000 in their operating budgets into fiscal year 2023.

    State Bar Board of Governors

    The State Bar Board of Governors welcomed 17 new members at its Sept. 23 meeting in Elkhart Lake.

    Members may obtain a copy of the minutes of each meeting of the Board of Governors by contacting State Bar Executive Coordinator Jan Marksby email or phone at 608-250-6106.

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