Nov. 3, 2022 – Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler used her second State of the Judiciary address on Nov. 2 to highlight the need to bolster judicial security for the state’s 272 judges.
Ziegler began her address, which took place at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Judicial Conference, by paying homage to the five judges who died since the conference’s 2021 annual meeting.
Among those judges was Judge John Roemer.
Roemer, a retired Juneau County Circuit Court judge, was killed by an intruder who broke into his home in New Lisbon on June 3, 2022. The intruder, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound four days after the attack, had been sentenced to prison by Roemer in 2006.
Chief Justice Ziegler mentioned Roemer’s accomplishments and character, and then – after noting that “Judging is not an easy business” – said that Roemer appeared to have been killed for doing his job.
Ziegler said that Roemer’s death had spurred her to make judicial security a priority.
“We could sit by and hope this was an isolated incident and nothing like it ever happens again,” Chief Justice Ziegler said. “But you can’t really predict when this type of attack might occur, and ‘hoping’ alone is not enough. We need to be more proactive and take additional security measures.”
Chief Justice Ziegler said that judges are frequently the target of threats and violence. She cited as examples the son of a federal judge in New Jersey who was shot and killed in 2020 and the arrest of an armed man outside the home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in June 2022.
Threats against judges imperil judicial independence, Ziegler said.
“Judges shouldn’t be intimidated or influenced by threats or acts of violence from people or groups who want to intimidate or harm us, push a cause, subvert the rule of law, or control the outcome of a case.”
Everyone, not just judges, should be safe inside Wisconsin’s 72 courthouses, Chief Justice Ziegler said.
“Jurors, litigants, attorneys, court staff, and the public also need to feel safe, and to be safe, for our justice system to function properly. No one should face threats or violence for carrying out their role in the legal system – a system intended to serve as a forum for resolving disputes peacefully, according to the law.”
Security Training, Standards
Ziegler said she and Director of State Courts, Judge Randy Koschnick, and other judicial officials have boosted the number of in-person trainings at the Wisconsin Judicial College and new judge orientation programs. She also encouraged her fellow jurists to attend the annual court safety and security conference in Appleton on March 15-17, 2023.
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.
Chief Justice Ziegler said security standards established by Supreme Court Rules are being updated, and said she has established a task force to review and make recommendations on additional courthouse and judicial security measures.
“Court security is not a top-down issue, and we know some of our best ideas come from the front lines,” Ziegler said.
Backlog Begins to Ease
Chief Justice Ziegler also used her address to provide an update on the felony case backlog that’s plagued the state court system since 2020.
Ziegler said the statewide felony clearance rate for September was 102%, which means the system disposed of more cases than it took in. By contrast, the statewide felony clearance rate dipped to 63% at one point in 2020 and ended that year below 100%.
The recent progress in clearing the backlog, Chief Ziegler said, came despite an increase in the number felony filings.
Ziegler pointed to Waukesha and Marathon counties as success stories: Waukesha County’s felony clearance rate from November 2021 through Oct. 1, 2022 was 110% and Marathon County’s rate during the same period was 109%.
The expenditure of federal Covid relief funds played a role in the jump in the felony clearance rate in Waukesha County, Chief Justice Ziegler said.
Milwaukee County is also using federal Covid relief funds to hire additional prosecutors and public defenders, Chief Justice Ziegler said.
“It’s important we take stock of our accomplishments because I know sometimes that backlog has seemed insurmountable,” Ziegler said. “A lot of people deserve credit, including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the bar, law firms donating pro bono counsel, court staff, and our partners in county government.”