Just over fourteen months have passed since I first appeared in a Milwaukee County courtroom as a newly minted (Marquette) lawyer. Rolling the clock back another two and a half years, I recall my first few days as a law student. In all, I’m nearly four years into what I hope will be a long and eventful career in the law.
Over these last four years—this last year, in particular—I’ve found myself often making the same two observations. Though I don’t suspect that either of my observations are especially unique, both are surely the product of spending so many of my days in and around our state’s most active courthouse.
The first of these observations is one I began to consider very early on during my time at Marquette: we (society in general, but lawyers and others inside the legal system more specifically) must do more to educate and inform all those individuals who too often lack even the most rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a nation of laws. Continue reading “The Need to Educate the Nonlegal Public About Lawyers and the Legal System”
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”
An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breathalyzer installed in a vehicle that prevents a driver from operating the vehicle until first providing an adequate breath sample. In Wisconsin, an IID is required in one of three circumstances after being convicted of either Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) or Operating with a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC): the defendant is a repeat drunk driver, the defendant refused a chemical blood or breath test under Wisconsin’s implied consent law, or the defendant is a first time drunk driver and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 “at the time of the offense.” Because OWI 1st’s are not crimes in Wisconsin, defense attorneys specializing in OWI cases try to negotiate with prosecutors to stipulate that the defendant’s BAC was 0.149 to avoid the costly and cumbersome IID requirement. This arbitrary threshold creates an obvious loophole.
The state legislature should revise this language in the IID statute because its vague language is leading to ridiculous results in court and does not promote consistency in OWI cases. As a matter of syntax, the statute as its currently written is arguably ambiguous. The legislature specifically used the phrase “at the time of the offense” as opposed to “at the time of driving.” The most common interpretation (and one favored by defense attorneys) is that the word “offense” only encompasses the physical act of driving and nothing after it. However, if that is what the legislature intended, then it would have been clearly to use the word “driving” instead. Further, the current language is in clear conflict with the OWI statute that penalizes drunk driving. A second reasonable interpretation is that “offense” includes everything from the driving to when the police officer issues the citations. However, this reading appears to cast too wide a net. Continue reading “Loophole in Drunken Driving Law Should be Closed”
Joseph A. Ranney says his interest in almost two centuries of Wisconsin’s legal system stands on two things. One is as simple as this: “I love history.” The other is the large amount of time he has spent reading old volumes of Wisconsin legal records as a student and as a lawyer.
His passion for the subject has made Ranney, the Adrian P. Schoone Fellow in Wisconsin Law and Legal Institutions at Marquette University Law School and a partner with the firm of DeWitt Ross & Stevens in Madison, an expert on Wisconsin’s legal history. His most recent book, Wisconsin and the Shaping of American Law, was published in 2017 by the University of Wisconsin Press.
During an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program in the Lubar Center in Eckstein Hall on Wednesday, Ranney talked about trends in Wisconsin’s legal history and some of the important and sometimes colorful episodes in that history, going back to the 1820s when Wisconsin was a territory and it was a challenge to get people to respect what judges did. Continue reading “Law School’s Schoone Fellow Describes Wisconsin’s Legal History in “On the Issues” Program”
The following opinion piece appears in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Our system of justice rests upon two pillars: equal treatment and independent judgment. Every person who appears before our state courts expects to be treated equally to every other litigant. In addition, every party to a lawsuit expects to have his case heard by a judge who is free to exercise their own independent judgment. Recently, the state legislature in Madison and Governor Walker approved legislation – a $3 billion package luring Foxconn Technology Group to build a flat-screen TV factory in Racine County — that seriously undermines these two fundamental principles.
The principle of equal treatment commands that the same rules should apply to all parties appearing before the court. No one should receive special status. It is true that the two sides in a case might not be evenly matched, and that one might have more financial resources or a more skilled legal team. But, even then, both parties in the case should be subject to the same set of laws and procedures, and have the same opportunity to argue that the law supports their claim.
The Foxconn legislation creates special treatment for Foxconn whenever that corporation is sued in Wisconsin courts. The law forces the Wisconsin Supreme Court to directly take appeals involving “Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zones” (EITM) from the circuit courts. By law there is only one such zone, and that zone is home to Foxconn. Typically, the high court would hear appeals at their discretion, and then only after the case was heard by an intermediate court. The reason for placing cases involving Foxconn on a “fast-track” to the Wisconsin Supreme Court should be obvious. That Court currently boasts a majority of Justices who were elected with the financial support of Wisconsin’s largest trade and manufacturing lobbyists. The drafters of the legislation expect these Justices to be sympathetic to the concerns of manufacturers like Foxconn.
We expect our state court judges to be free to exercise their independent judgment when deciding the merits of a case. It is the trial judge that hears the facts and the evidence, and who determines the appropriate remedy should the plaintiff prevail. It is not the state legislature’s job to decide which party in a case should win, or what remedy should be imposed in an individual case. Continue reading “Foxconn Deal Tips the Scales of Justice”
Prof. David Strifling rightly draws our attention to what he terms “the quiet revolution” taking place in Wisconsin administrative law. As deputy legal counsel for the governor several years ago, I was privileged to be a foot soldier in that revolution, which sought to reinvigorate core constitutional principles around the separation of powers, government transparency, and executive responsibility. Thus far, the revolution has primarily been fought in the legislature (primarily through 2011 Act 21 and 2017 Act 57) and the executive branch (especially the Governor’s Executive Order 50 and the Attorney General’s opinion 01-16).
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will soon have its opportunity to join and accelerate the revolution when it hears and decides Tetra Tech v. DOR (Court of Appeals decision) and LIRC v. DWD (Court of Appeals decision) (scheduled for argument Friday, December 1). These cases both present core questions of agency deference, institutional competence, and judicial power – in short, the opportunity for the Court to supplant its current doctrine with a new approach. As evidence of the sea change that these cases could mark, consider that the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (leading 10 other business groups), and the Wisconsin Utilities Association all have filed amicus briefs in Tetra Tech making thoughtful arguments as to the value and validity of agency deference.
I have recently posted to SSRN a paper that delves into the past and future of deference in Wisconsin’s jurisprudence. Originally intended to complete my trilogy of Marquette Law Review articles on interpretation of the Wisconsin Constitution and Wisconsin statutes, the timeliness of these cases has instead prompted a shorter essay which tackles the important questions raised in Tetra Tech with an eye toward the fundamental principles which should guide the Court’s decision. Ultimately I conclude that the current scheme conflicts with constitutional first principles, the statutes, and common sense. I believe the Court should deep-six its doctrine and start anew with the standards set forth in Wisconsin’s administrative procedures act (Ch. 227). Please read the essay to see why. And we’ll all be watching closely as these cases move forward. Just because the revolution won’t be televised (I’ve never seen an episode of Law & Order or Suits concerning administrative law) doesn’t mean it won’t have significant implications for law in our state.
Daniel Suhr is a 2008 graduate of the Marquette University Law School.
The “Benefit Corporation” is a new corporation class and it may be coming to a state near you (if it hasn’t already). A benefit corporation (colloquially referred to as B-corp) is an entity type that seeks to blend profit and purpose.
In 2010, Maryland was the first state to adopt a benefit corporation law. Since then, about 30 other states have followed suit. As of October 2017, the Wisconsin legislature had a bill under consideration to create a benefit corporation statute.
What Exactly Is a Benefit Corporation?
Benefit corporations seek to create a material positive impact on society and the environment. These companies focus beyond the entrenched corporate purpose of profit maximization. Most states with benefit corporation statutes base these laws on the Model Benefits Corporation Legislation. Benefit corporations are required to (a) espouse a general/specific public benefit, (b) be accountable, and (c) be transparent.
This pursuit of public benefit could take various forms, such as: providing low-income communities with beneficial services; preserving the environment; improving human health; promoting the arts; or any other nonpecuniary purpose that could be of benefit to society or the environment.
For example, Better World Books, a benefit corporation, is an online book retailer that sells used and new books. For every book sold, it gives a percentage of its funds and unsold books to literacy foundations across the globe. Some other famous companies who have decided to go the benefit corporation route include Kickstarter, Etsy, and Ben and Jerry’s.
Benefit corporations are usually required to have some measure of accountability. This often entails measuring the provision of the corporation’s stated public benefit goal against an independent third-party standard.
Most benefit corporation statutes also require specific disclosures. Corporations are required to provide an annual benefit report to their shareholders regarding the corporation’s success or failures in delivering the espoused public benefit. Continue reading “The Rise of Benefit Corporations: Show me the Money…and the Good”
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.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia, a former administrative law professor, once began an address on Chevron deference by warning his audience to “lean back, clutch the sides of your chairs, and steel yourselves for a pretty dull lecture.” Perhaps that warning should preface this blog post, which also concerns administrative law. Of course Scalia’s comments that day turned out to be anything but “dull.” Broadly speaking, neither is the subject matter he covered: as the discipline concerned with governmental decision-making, administrative law issues confront nearly every legal practice in areas as diverse as taxation, environmental permitting and litigation, labor relations, and countless others.
In Wisconsin, the past five years have seen an unprecedented makeover in longstanding principles of state-level administrative law. These changes shift power away from agencies and toward courts, the legislature, and the governor. In this post, I divide the changes into three categories: 1) reductions in agency authority; 2) additions to the rulemaking process that, among other things, allow the Legislature to indefinitely block new rules; and, perhaps most importantly, 3) fundamental revisions to the doctrine of judicial deference to agency interpretations of law. Taken together, these developments deeply change the balance of power between agencies and the three branches of Wisconsin government.
Continue reading “The quiet revolution in Wisconsin administrative law”
Two pairs may not be the most powerful hand in poker, but they are definitely a winning combination for the Summer 2017 edition of Marquette Lawyer, the Marquette Law School magazine.
One pair in the magazine focuses on how long U.S. Supreme Court Justices should serve and, more broadly, how to assure confidence in the judiciary. Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit focused on this in the E. Harold Hallows Lecture he delivered at Marquette Law School in 2016. The magazine offers a lightly edited text of the lecture by Diaz, including his advocacy of ideas he presumes that few of his fellow judges would support. Paired with the text is a comment from Diaz’s colleague on the Fourth Circuit, Judge James Wynn, L’79. An interview and profile of Wynn accompany his comment. The Diaz text may be read by clicking here and the Wynn comment (and interview) here.
The other pair in the magazine offers provocative insights from two people who play leading roles in the tech world. Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, made two appearances at Marquette Law School on November 15, 2016, delivering the Helen Wilson Nies Lecture on Intellectual Property and participating in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program. A selection of his thoughts may be found by clicking here.
Ted Ullyot is currently a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, and he was formerly general counsel for Facebook—indeed, the lawyer who led the company in the process of going public. An edited version of Ullyot’s remarks at the Law School in a Helen Wilson Nies Lecture in April 2016 may be found by clicking here. Continue reading “Insights on Judiciary and Tech Industry Highlight New Marquette Lawyer Magazine”
Roughly six years ago the Wisconsin Legislature amended the expunction statute to permit certain felonies to be expunged. At the same time, the Legislature also permitted expunction for older offenders. Previously, defendants had to be under 21 to secure the benefits of expunction. Under the newly revised statute, defendants under 25 could now have certain crimes removed from their record.
Since the expunction statute was altered, Wisconsin law has been in disarray when it comes to analyzing the framework of expunction. For decades, judges had always “reserved” a defendant’s right to seek expunction. This was logical – judges naturally wanted to see how a defendant would do on probation before making the final decision. But the Court of Appeals, in an unfortunate ruling, found that the expunction statute barred such an approach. Now, judges have to do their best to analyze the proverbial “crystal ball,” making the decision to confer expunction at the time of sentencing, as opposed to making the decision after two or three years of probation. Continue reading “The Curious Nature of Expunged Offenses”
I’ve been asked to be the alumni blogger for the month of May. It’s about time!
For those who don’t know me, I am a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin. I am currently the President of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL). Because of this position, and the fact that I’ve practiced exclusively in the criminal defense field for 12 years, my posts will generally focus on defense-related issues.
In that vein, perhaps the most pressing criminal defense-related issue in Wisconsin remains the unconscionably low rate of compensation paid to lawyers who take appointments from the State Public Defender’s Office (SPD).
Here’s the nutshell version of what currently happens. Indigent defendants are constitutionally guaranteed representation by lawyers who work for the SPD. But the SPD obviously can’t handle all of the cases assigned to the agency. For one, there are cases with co-defendants, where ethical rules preventing conflicts of interest would preclude one “firm” from representing both defendants. In other situations, a flood of criminal prosecutions renders the SPD staff unable to handle all of the cases. Consequently, private attorneys will sometimes step up to the plate, and agree to take these cases.
These cases, known as SPD appointments, are paid at a rate of $40 an hour. Continue reading “After Thirty Years, It Is Time To Raise The Compensation for SPD Appointments”