The Third Branch
Court Reporters Nancy Sczeklinski, Karla Sommer, Gail Villwock, Rose Roderick (a court reporting student), Sue Veres, and Lori Baldauf pose with Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson (center) and Director of State Courts A. John Voelker at their first annual Wisconsin Court Reporters Association convention in Madison. Photo credit: WCRA
Director of State Court A. John Voelker spoke with attendees at the first-ever annual Wisconsin Court Reporters Association (WCRA) convention in Madison. Voelker spoke about plans for the court system and answered questions from the association's members. Convention attendees were also surprised by another speaker, Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, who was invited to attend the association's Town Hall Meeting when WCRA board members ran into her at lunch. Abrahamson also invited members who were touring the State Capitol to visit her office.
Kenosha County recently celebrated its ninth drug court graduation since the program began in 2009 with a couple of unique circumstances.
"I checked with everyone I could to verify this statement, but he has never had a single violation in drug court," the Kenosha News quoted Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Anthony Milisauskas as saying about graduate Andrew Singer during the ceremony. "I didn't think it could happen, but it did. Andrew, I am very proud of you."
Judge Anthony Milisauskas
As part of the program, non-violent offenders must attending counseling and probation meetings, make weekly court appearances, and submit to drug tests, and failure to abide by these rules may result in sanctions.
After Singer accepted his drug court graduation certificate, the Kenosha News reported another first for Milisauskas: Singer picked up his guitar and began to play and sing.
"This is the first time I have ever had anyone play guitar in my court," the judge is quoted as saying.
Director of State Courts A. John Voelker was featured in a Q&A piece posted on The Wheeler Report online news service on Oct. 28. In the report, Voelker explained the work of the court system, including the role of technology, particularly the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP); continuing legal education for judges; court interpreter programs; and alternatives to incarceration programs.
Voelker pointed out that CCAP has proven a valuable asset to lawyers and the public, by allowing them to access tools, applications, juror services, pro se resources, and electronic case filing. Court interpreters, according to Voelker, are also helping to provide better access to justice in the state. "We have done a variety of training over the years from judges to clerks of court to other justice system partners to make sure people understand the issues associated with interpreters," Voelker is quoted as saying. "We recently learned that 10 other states are using the training videos we developed in this area."
Washburn County Circuit Court Judge Eugene D. Harrington shows off three walleye he caught while fishing after work in the Shell Lake area. Harrington, an avid sportsman, said he finds fishing to be a nice way to relax after a long day in court.
Voelker said the court system continues to focus on justice strategies that work, using the examples of Eau Claire and Milwaukee counties, where the implementation of effective justice strategies has received national recognition for the National Institute of Corrections.
When asked about what he believes to be the biggest misconception about the state courts, Voelker's answer was that it is primarily funded by the state. "The state pays for all the costs of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but the circuit courts, where these million cases are filed, is a partnership with the counties in which the counties now pay about 60 percent of the costs," he explained.
Voelker concluded the interview by saying he was concerned by the reduced support the judicial system receives from the state, but asserted that the court system would do everything they could to continue to provide an accessible, efficient, and effective court system. "The taxpayers are getting an excellent return on their investment of less than one percent of state taxes," he said.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Oct. 23 that a July fire at the Milwaukee County Courthouse caused between $10 million and $11 million in damage.
Don Tyler, the county's director of administrative services director, told a Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors committee that the insurance company has paid the county about $6 million so far. The fire temporarily shut down the courthouse and several court functions.
The total cost of repairs still is not known, Tyler told the board's Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee, nor is the definite cause of the fire, according to the newspaper.
The electrical fire began in the courthouse basement July 6. The courthouse was not fully reopened until July 24. The courthouse continues to run off temporary power because the electrical system cannot be replaced until the investigation is complete. Tyler estimated installation of the new system could begin by late December, reporter Beth Kevit wrote in the Journal Sentinel.
First District Court Administrator Bruce Harvey told the committee of chief judges and district court administrators that much was learned about critical incident management as a result of the fire. One of the most important things learned was to have available phone numbers and contact information for key people, especially those outside the court system who may be coordinating emergency response and recovery activities, Harvey said. Judges and court staff often chipped in to help out wherever needed, Harvey said.
Judge John R. Storck
Judge Juan B. Colás
Judge Thomas Lister
Dodge County Circuit Court Judge John R. Storck joined Director of State Courts A. John Voelker at the 2013 Wisconsin Counties Association conference to present a workshop on courthouse security. The annual conference was held Sept. 22-24 in Madison. Other speakers at the conference included National Association of Counties President Linda Langston, Gov. Scott Walker, and Green Bay Packers Radio Network's Wayne Larrivee.
"Race bias in Dane County legal system to be fought in special courts," headlined a Wisconsin State Journal article, which highlighted initiatives the county will be implementing to combat the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. According to the article, the county's drug court program will allow access to more racial minorities, higher risk individuals, and repeat offenders after a reorganization scheduled to take place next year.
"One effect of doing it this way is to broaden access, which may have an effect on the racial makeup of the participants," Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan B. Colás, who is overseeing the program, told the State Journal.
A new community court would establish a process that would divert some younger offenders to restorative justice programs, allowing them to avoid criminal records for minor offenses, the article states. The program, which will be modeled after teen court programs, is awaiting budget approval from the county board.
Jackson County Circuit Court has been awarded a $649,875 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Program, according to JoDee Brooke at the Banner Journal newspaper. The plan is to use grant money to create two new treatments courts in the county targeted at families and children in need of protective services.
The new court programs will address domestic issues, including neglect, delinquency, mental health issues, and adolescent substance abuse, and will operate in collaboration with the Ho-Chunk Nation, with the goal of reducing the number of out-of-home child placements through early intervention.
"It's never been done before," Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lister told the Banner Journal. "We're confident we can do this and I think that's why we got the grant. We are only one of two courts to get the funding. The other is in Ohio."
Both Jackson County and the Ho-Chunk Nation already operate drug court programs, but the new courts will take a "holistic" approach in examining the issues that cause the "family structure to break down," according to the article.
Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson received a Distinguished Alumni Service Award from Indiana University in November. Award winners are recognized for being leaders in their chosen fields and for making significant contributions benefiting their community, nation, state or university. Abrahamson earned a law degree from the university in 1956 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws degree in 1986.
During her remarks accepting the award, Abrahamson recounted the value of her education at the University of Indiana and her early career.
"As one of just a handful of female students in the law school in the early 1950s, I was told not to expect to be hired as a lawyer upon graduation. This was true even though I was first in my class, and traditionally the #1 graduate was a sought-after commodity. "
Video of the ceremony, including Abrahamson's remarks, is available online at: http://broadcast.iu.edu/ceremon/DASA_13/index.html.
Abrahamson visited The University of Iowa College of Law Sept. 26-27 as a jurist-in-residence. She was invited to the law school by Professor Lea VanderVelde, a former intern for Justice William G. Callow. During her time at the law school, Abrahamson met with faculty, participated in several classes, and discussed judicial clerkships with students.
As part of the Chief Justice's Mental Health Initiative, Abrahamson participated in the Judicial-Psychiatric Leadership Forum held in Philadelphia on Oct. 13. Fifty leading judges and psychiatrists from across the country met to develop strategies to improve outcomes for individuals with behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system. The members shared best practices and recent research, discussed maximizing community treatment resources, and identified action plans to coordinate local and national efforts to reduce the overrepresentation of this population in the criminal justice system.
On Nov. 10, Green County Circuit Court Judge James R. Beer officially dedicated the Veterans Park in Brodhead. Dedicating the park was especially meaningful for Beer, whose 97-year-old father served in the Pacific theater during World War II. The elder Beer served in both the 32nd and 41st Divisions in Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines, and Hiroshima. This past spring, the judge had the opportunity to escort his father on an honor flight to Washington D.C.
A recent editorial on Channel3000.com praised both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and WisconsinEye for allowing the public access to the court's proceedings with cameras in the courtroom. Editorial director Neil Heinen noted that the Nov. 11 oral arguments regarding the "Act 10 case" ran for approximately four hours.
"We can never take this for granted, as there are states, and of course our own United States Supreme Court, that continue to refuse such openness," the editorial read. Heinen also commended the justices of the Supreme Court for their "honorable and respectful" behavior of the court during the proceedings.
Green County Circuit Court Judge James R. Beer speaks at the dedication ceremony for the Veterans Park in Brodhead, Wis.