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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    August 01, 2003

    Legal News and Trends


    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 8, August 2003

    Legal News & Trends

    Voelker, new director of courts, focuses on efficiency and serving the public

    Wisconsin's new Director of State Courts John Voelker of McFarland is well prepared to meet the challenges of the top administrative position in the court system. Appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in June, Voelker, who joined the court system in 1992, has served as interim director since March. For the last five years he has served as the executive assistant to the chief justice, where he was responsible for a variety of systemwide initiatives focused on issues such as courthouse safety and better serving self-represented litigants.

    "Running an efficient operation that serves the public well in a tight fiscal environment is the most pressing issue facing the courts today," says Voelker. "One example of our efforts to serve the public is the recently introduced online self-help center, which educates the public about the legal process and outlines the responsibilities of a self-represented litigant. When people represent themselves in complicated cases, it costs the court time and money and the litigant may receive an adverse decision."

    "A fiscal cutback that is helping trim costs, but eventually could significantly impact court operations, is the reduction in the use of reserve judges," says Voelker. "When a judge is off the bench for education, vacation, or to serve on a court committee, we reschedule cases rather than use a reserve judge."

    Voelker also is concerned about how current trends will affect how the court system makes the court record. "The combination of a decreasing pool of individuals interested in being official court reporters and the increasing demand for television closed captioners may dramatically effect the availability of court reporters. The court system needs to set some direction on how the record will be preserved in the future considering these challenges."

    "In conclusion," Voelker says, "the main goal of the Office of Director of State Courts is to ensure that every individual who comes to the court- house experiences a fair and efficient system. We will continue to study what is working and what is not and assess the effects of the budget cutbacks on the operation of the court system."

    Voelker replaces J. Denis Moran, who retired in May. Contact Voelker at john.voelker@wicourts.gov or (608) 266-6828. Visit the self help center site at www.wicourts.gov/shc.

    Wisconsin court personnel easier to find at new email address

    By the end of 2003, the lengthy email addresses for Wisconsin court personnel will change, swapping the current variety of suffixes for @wicourts.gov.

    Gramm-Leach-Bliley update

    With the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's decision expected soon on the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) application of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the FTC has indicated it does not intend to bring enforcement actions against lawyers for failing to comply with the July 1 deadline for sending notices of "privacy policy" to clients prior to the court's forthcoming decision.

    The FTC's decision is in response to the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the ABA, each of which have challenged the act's application to lawyers. On Sept. 13, 2002, the State Bar of Wisconsin joined with Ohio in its amicus brief to the NYSBA action against the FTC over its interpretation that law firms and lawyers constitute "financial institutions" under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and are subject to the act's privacy notice provisions. Visit www.wisbar.org for updates.

    Increasing public trust and confidence in the justice system
    Charging guidelines advance equal treatment of similar offenses in Milwaukee County

    In July, a group of 19 Milwaukee County municipalities, including the district attorney's office, the city attorney's office, and

    the sheriff's department, released a set of guidelines on how defendants are charged in nonfelony cases. The 18-month project resulted in new standards on how certain offenses are charged and seeks to balance how laws are enforced in Milwaukee County.

    The guidelines were developed by police chiefs, prosecutors, municipal judges, and attorneys from several municipalities, including the Milwaukee County District Attorneys' Office, Milwaukee City Attorney's Office, the City of Milwaukee Police Department, and representatives from the Milwaukee Bar Association's (MBA) Community Relations and State Bar's Diversity Outreach committees.

    "To have justice, similarly situated defendants must be treated similarly," said Milwaukee District Attorney E. Michael McCann. "Where variations existed between the city and some suburbs on how to treat various types of miscreant offenses, now all will be treated in the same fashion."

    Patricia Gorence, U.S. Magistrate judge, and Carl Ashley, Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, spearheaded the project, which was funded in part by a State Bar grant. Both judges recently received distinguished service awards from the MBA for their work on this project.

    "Everyone understands that the guidelines are just that - a guide," said Ashley. "However, there was clear agreement that people in Milwaukee County should be treated similarly regarding like offenses. I believe the guidelines will attempt to do just that."

    "The guidelines will increase fairness in charging of defendants and foster the public's perception of equal treatment in the justice system," said Gorence.

    History. In 1999, the ABA, the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the League of Women Voters sponsored a national conference to discuss the public's confidence in the justice system. The national conference recognized that public confidence in the courts is important because it is inherently related to the concept of judicial independence, a basic tenet of our democratic system and the rule of law.

    In response to the national conference, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the Wisconsin Director of State Courts, the State Bar, and the League of Women Voters sponsored a state project on public trust and confidence in the Wisconsin justice system.

    Hon. Joseph M. Troy of Appleton, chaired its steering committee of 10 members, one of which was Judge Ashley. The committee conducted statewide focus groups to determine where public trust in the judicial system was weakest and to address some of the most pressing issues. In October 2000 the committee issued an action plan, "Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System: A Wisconsin Initiative," to help shape existing efforts of the State Bar, the courts, law enforcement agencies, and community groups, and to offer strategies to improve the justice system and promote public trust.

    In 2001, under the leadership of President Gerry Mowris, the State Bar offered grants to law-related groups establishing programs focusing on increasing public trust and confidence.

    "Judges Ashley and Gorence and their working group performed a very difficult task, bringing together representatives from the community and the legal profession to generate a solution," says Mowris. "The Milwaukee County project is a prime example of the legal profession serving our communities by working with community leaders to aid the courts in improving the administration of justice. Hopefully other counties will use the Milwaukee model to help make their systems more equitable. Dane County Bar President Mike Davis and I hope to create a similar project in Dane County."

    Visit www.wisbar.org/newscenter to download the charging guidelines. For more information, contact Ashley at (414) 454-4220 or Gorence at (414) 297-4165. Visit www.wisbar.org/bar/ptc/ptc1.html to read the committee's action plan.




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