Vol. 84, No. 6, June 2011
Open Supreme Court Conferences
Five years ago I wrote a Wisconsin Lawyer President’s Column entitled “Open Up the Supreme Court,” calling for our state supreme court to meet in public when it conferences to discuss and decide cases on appeal. I suggested that open conferences could educate the public about the judicial decision-making process; enhance respect for the court and its difficult work of deciding cases; and promote civility and professionalism among the justices. A colleague on the Board of Governors told me it was “the most ridiculous” idea he’d ever heard.
How many of us in the legal profession would ever have imagined the stories of name calling, threats, and discord among the justices that recently have made the news? Even some supreme court opinions contain surprisingly disrespectful language. Some justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court – who should be setting the example of civility and professionalism for the bar – are setting exactly the opposite example. What a sad and embarrassing situation for us all. Perhaps the idea of open supreme court conferences seems a bit less ridiculous today. The idea has worked well for rulemaking conferences, which have been held in open court for the last 15 years. Why not try it for cases on appeal?
Atty. Steven Levine