On Saturday, December 19, former Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, died after battling pancreatic cancer. She was 87. Just two ways she was like another famous, short, tough, trailblazing Jewish jurist: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Abrahamson, the daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1930s, grew up in New York City. She graduated magna cum laude from NYU with her bachelor’s degree in 1953. Three years later, she graduated first in her class from Indiana Law School; she was also the only woman.
She met her husband Seymour in Indiana; they moved to Madison in the early 1960s, where Abrahamson earned her S.J.D. from UW Law in 1962. Thereafter, she became the first female lawyer at the Madison law firm La Follette, Sinykin, Doyle & Anderson. She was named a partner within a year. All throughout the time she was in practice, she also taught at UW Law.
Currently before the State Legislature are bills regarding the State Public Defender private bar appointment rate. Currently the rate is $40 per hour (the lowest in the nation), but the bill is proposing to raise the rate to $70 per hour. Recently a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court attempted to get the Supreme Court to raise the private bar rate of the public defender to $100 per hour. While the Supreme Court acknowledged the current rate as woefully inadequate, it did not take action regarding the public defender appointed rate, although it did raise the court-appointed rate effective next year to $100 per hour for all court-appointed lawyers.
The issue regarding the lack of attorneys willing to take SPD appointments to represent the indigent has picked up significant media attention and has prompted one lawsuit. The discussion that the State is failing to fulfill constitutional obligations to its citizens is important. Why did it take a “constitutional crisis” to reach this point? The criminal defense attorney is not just politically unpopular but can often be viewed as a reason elections have been lost. Continue reading “Second-Class Treatment of Criminal Defense Lawyers”
Recently, I authored a post on this same blog discussing the first of two frequent observations I’ve made since joining the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor and rookie lawyer in February of last year. There, I expressed my belief that we must do more to educate the nonlegal public about what it is we do as lawyers. Here, however, I wish to share what is perhaps as much a personal conclusion as it is an observation—appellate work is where it’s at.
In the last six or so months, I’ve been tasked on several occasions to represent the State before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. These experiences have been enjoyable for several reasons—not the least of which is that I do enjoy writing about the law.
More generally, I have come to prefer legal argument over arguing facts. For these reasons, I expect that my career in the law will naturally gravitate toward appellate work. This is not to say I that I don’t enjoy trying cases to juries, but rather it is acknowledgment of one introspective observation.
As I’ve arrived at this conclusion, I’ve also realized that I’m most interested in getting the law right—regardless of whether doing so helps or hurts any particular position I’ve taken in a case. That said, what I find most appealing about appellate work is that I’ve come to believe that appellate courts generally prioritize getting it right above all else. Continue reading “Appellate Work: Getting the Law Right”
This semester in Professor Lisa Mazzie’s Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice seminar, students are required to write one blog post on a law- or law school-related topic of their choice. Writing blog posts as a lawyer is a great way to practice writing skills, and to do so in a way that allows the writer a little more freedom to showcase his or her own voice, and—eventually for these students—a great way to maintain visibility as a legal professional. Here is one of those blog posts, this one written by 2L Grace Gall.
“How do you spell their last name?”—That is often the question my mother used to ask me when I was a kid and asked to spend the night at a new friend’s house. Like many Wisconsin parents or employers, my mother often would use the public record cite called CCAP to search criminal and civil records of individuals. As a child, I simply got used to my mother’s question and as I grew older and started working in the legal field myself, I became more and more acquainted with CCAP. Recently this year, I heard about changes being made to the CCAP record system. The Director of State Courts voted in March of this year to change the time limits for dismissed or acquitted cases to have them removed from the public record site after two years from the final order. Continue reading “Changes to Wisconsin’s CCAP Shortens the Time that Some Records are Online”
On Wednesday night, October 11th, the non-partisan organization Common Cause in Wisconsin is holding a town hall meeting/public hearing entitled “Access to Justice.” Co-sponsors of the event include the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County, and the American Association of University Women of Wisconsin. This free event is open to the public and will take place October 11 from 6:30PM to 8:00PM at Marquette Law School in the Appellate Courtroom (Main Level). Marquette University Law School is not a sponsor of the event.
The focus of the event will be the recusal rules that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has adopted for our state judiciary. Wisconsin’s current state recusal “non-standard” was written by the lobbyist organization Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce in 2010. The current rule essentially states that judges may decide for themselves whether to recuse themselves in a case involving a donor or special interest group who made campaign contributions to that judge.
This past April, the Wisconsin Supreme Court discussed a petition by 54 retired Wisconsin judges to establish reasonable thresholds for recusal of trial and appellate judges when they receive campaign contributions from a defendant or plaintiff – or if they benefited from spending by an “outside” special interest group involved in a case before their court. The State Supreme Court voted 5 to 2 to reject this petition, and the Court did so without any input from the public.
The purpose of Wednesday night’s event is to educate persons in attendance on the issue of judicial recusal rules and to seek public input on possible reforms. I will be one speaker at this event, along with former State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, former Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Michael Skwierawski, and Jay Heck from Common Cause.
Again, this event is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there.
This is the second part of a three part series on Women in Wisconsin Law.
Although women were admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1879, it would be over one hundred years until the state’s first elected female county judge. In 1970, Olga Bennett, a native of Vernon County, was the first woman elected and sworn in as a county judge in Wisconsin.
Bennett was born on May 5, 1908, in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Education played an important role throughout Bennett’s life. In 1925 she graduated from Viroqua High School, and in 1928, she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin. After taking time following her undergraduate studies to work at a local bank, she returned to her studies four years later. After spending a semester at the Madison Business School, Bennett enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1935, she graduated from law school and was admitted to the state bar.
Upon graduating, Bennett served as a law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice John D. Wickham for five years. Following this clerkship, she went into business with her father, who was also an attorney. Together they ran the Bennett and Bennett law firm. Before being elected to serve as a judge, Bennett held various positions in the legal community, including serving as the first female city attorney of Viroqua.
Although one might have expected that a larger county in the state, such as Madison or Milwaukee, would have been the first to elect a female county judge, it was small Vernon County with a population of only 28,000 that holds this title. In April 1969, Bennett ran and was elected to the bench in Vernon County (courthouse pictured above at left), defeating incumbent County Judge Larry Sieger who was appointed by the governor in 1968. In 1970, she took the oath of office and became the second woman to serve as a judge in Wisconsin. Continue reading “Women in Wisconsin Law: Olga Bennett”
Justice N. Patrick Crooks was the epitome of a lawyer and judge who lived to serve. In his fifty-two-year legal career, he served as a captain in the office of the Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon and then as a lawyer in private practice in Green Bay, before becoming a Brown County circuit court judge and then justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In 1994 he was named Wisconsin Trial Judge of the Year by the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Justice Crooks served on the trial bench for nineteen years and on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1996 to his passing, in chambers, last week on September 21.
I was honored to work for Justice Crooks as his clerk during the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 1999-2000 term.
Justice Crooks approached each case with fresh eyes and an impartial mind. He reasoned through cases carefully and understood that he had a solemn role in deciding a case. Justice Crooks believed in the law and the justice system. Every case was fully analyzed and researched before oral argument. Opinions were to be written to guide lawyers, judges, and Wisconsin citizens. Justice Crooks was proud of his work on the trial bench and felt that his knowledge of the trial courtroom was important to his understanding of cases on appeal.
As of today, eFiling is now available in Milwaukee County for family and civil cases. John Barrett, the Milwaukee County Clerk of Circuit Court, referred in this press release to eFiling’s “fast, secure filing” and “ease of use and cost efficiency”, among other benefits. The Wisconsin Court System website also includes a demonstration of the process and tutorial.
A person wishing to use eFiling must register with the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP). The eFiling website may be used at any time, any day to file or access a document.
We live in interesting times. A segment of the general public is quick to forgive the killing of two young men in Slinger, Wisconsin and Sanford, Florida as the unavoidable consequence of the exercise of a constitutional right. Yet at the same time, state court judges who have exercised their constitutional right of self-governance by signing a recall petition are being publicly called out by both special interest groups and the media, as if by signing the petition they have transgressed some moral boundary. These are interesting times, indeed.
The signing of a recall petition is a right guaranteed by Article XIII of the Wisconsin Constitution. It is a procedure whereby any voter can request that the continuation in office of an elected official in the State of Wisconsin should be put to the vote of the full electorate. If a sufficient number of voters sign the petition, a recall election is held. A recall can only succeed in removing the officeholder if both a sufficient number of recall signatures are filed and a majority of the electorate votes in favor of removal. The Recall is democratic self-governance in its purest form, and along with the Initiative and the Referendum it is one of the three structural vehicles by which Progressive Era voters sought to bypass the influence that special interests hold on elected bodies.
The Wisconsin GOP has filed an official complaint against Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan with the Judicial Commission on the grounds that the judge should have recused himself in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Wisconsin Voter ID law. Must judges who have signed a recall petition subsequently recuse themselves from sitting on any case in which the Governor, or Republican legislators, or the Republican Party of Wisconsin asserts that the signing of the petition evidences a bias against them? The answer is “no.” There is no explicit provision that prohibits judges from signing a recall petition or that mandates that they recuse themselves from any politically charged case if they have done so. Continue reading “Signing a Recall Petition Does Not Require Judicial Recusal”
Republican State Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Democratic State Sen. Timothy Cullen of Janesville did two things a few months ago that were quite remarkable in the light of the super-charged, partisan atmosphere in Madison (and elsewhere) this year.
For one, they had lunch together. And for another, they decided to spend a day in each other’s districts, trying to get a better grasp of the perspective of people who lived different lifestyles and had different views from the people in their own districts. Schultz represents a strongly rural state Senate district, while Cullen’s district, which includes Beloit, is more oriented toward cities and factories.
Schultz and Cullen agreed on quite a few things: The legislative process in Madison had become too divisive. Good policy requires the support of at least half the people of the state and not just people on one side. Both parties were guilty of pushing through momentous decisions without significant support from the other party – in the case of the Republicans in Wisconsin, it was the collective bargaining bill that triggered an uproar in Madison earlier this year, in the case of the Democrats in Washington, it was the health care bill passed in 2010.
The two decided they should work together on an idea that could change things. They settled on trying to reform the way state Supreme Court justices are selected so that process is less partisan and less subject to influence from special interests.
Judge Maryann Sumi issued the long anticipated opinion in Ozanne v. Fitzgerald yesterday, holding: 1) that the circuit courts have jurisdiction to hear cases alleging that a particular piece of legislation was not constitutionally enacted; 2) that the court’s jurisdiction includes challenges alleging noncompliance with Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law; and that 3) the failure of the March 9, 2011 Joint Committee of Conference Meeting to comply with the Open Meetings Law rendered the legislative action taken at that meeting — 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 — void.
Judge Sumi’s opinion is straight forward. The logic of her reasoning is spelled out in the topic headings contained in the opinion’s table of contents. I paraphrase:
It is within the scope of judicial responsibility to review legislative action for compliance with statutory and constitutional requirements. The Open Meetings Law presumes that all governmental meetings will be open and subject to notice requirements. Legislative proceedings are not exempted from the requirements of the Open Meetings Law. Therefore the legislature must comply with the same Open Meeting rules that apply to other governmental entities. The evidence at trial demonstrated that the March 9, 2011 meeting did not comply with the Open Meetings Law. The Open Meetings Law authorizes the court to void actions undertaken in violation of the law’s terms, where the court finds that the public interest does not counsel in favor of sustaining the action. There is no public interest in favor of sustaining the act taken here, especially since the provisions of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 can easily be re-enacted by the legislature if it so wishes (provided that any legislative re-enactment complies with the requirements of the Open Meetings Law).