Vol. 76, No. 8, August
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 email@example.com 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
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
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
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
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."
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.