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New courthouse, study may aid Green County bid for judge

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Plans to build a new courthouse in Green County, along with the results of a judicial needs study, could lend more support to a request for a second judge. The county is looking at replacing the existing 116-year-old courthouse (pictured above), with a new facility located next to the jail in Monroe.

The third time could be the charm for Green County.

In the last eight years, the county has twice seen approved resolutions for a second circuit court judge fizzle in the state Legislature because of budget constraints.

“In 1997 and 2000 we were in the bill, but it was withdrawn because there simply was no money for anything,” said Green County Circuit Court Judge James R. Beer, who has held the position since 1996.

An added concern was whether the county could even accommodate a second judge. The courthouse, located in Monroe, was built in 1891 and is widely believed to lack resources for additional judicial personnel.

Circumstances appear to have im-proved both financially and logistically for Green County, which may finally be in line for judicial assistance when a bill is presented to the Legislature this spring.

Center of Attention

In October 2006, the Green County Board settled on a location for a new justice center next to the sheriff’s office in Monroe. Several proposals were considered, including construction in downtown Monroe near the existing courthouse.

“It was a large majority of the County Board which voted to build next to the jail,” said Monroe Mayor Ron Marsh, who favored building downtown.

Marsh feared that without a centrally located court facility, commerce would suffer due to less pedestrian traffic downtown. Security was cited by board members as a major factor in choosing to build next to the jail.

Regardless of location, county funds have been allotted for the justice center which will house two jury-ready courtrooms and a court commissioner room that can be expanded into a third jury-ready courtroom.

“The center will be built to accommodate growth, not just in the near future, but beyond,” said Beer who estimated project costs at $8 million. “The last time anything was built was 1891, so those guys clearly knew what they were doing. If the new place lasts 100 years, that’s incredible foresight.”

According to both Beer and Marsh, the county is in the process of reviewing proposals from architectural and engineering firms. Neither ventured a guess as to when ground breaking will occur.

“I think the county has received five or six proposals in the last couple of weeks and they haven’t had an opportunity to review them yet,” said Marsh. “Once they do, I’m sure the next step will be taken.”

Study Supports Need

Green County’s potential for a new judge became even more realistic after the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) released its 2006 Judicial Needs study.

The comprehensive report analyzed caseload intake for each county and detailed how much time circuit court judges spend both in and out of the courtroom. 240 of the state’s 241 circuit court judges participated in the study, along with 109 circuit court commissioners.

Based on the data provided, Green County was recommended for 0.6 additional judicial personnel. While the percentage appears small, the overall need is 1.9 in a county which has only one judge.

“If you look at a county like Milwaukee which has 47 judges, but a recommended need for 2.7 more, it’s a bit different ratio than a county like us with only one doing the work of two,” said Beer, who noted that Green County has been ranked between second and fourth in state surveys of cases per judge the last eight years.

The consistent need for relief is why the county has repeatedly approved resolutions for a second judge, including one in January.

“The support has been there,” said Wendy Pschudy, Green County Deputy County Clerk. “I think we want to make it clear to the state, that the county supports the proposal.”

District 5 Chief Judge Michael N. Nowakowski also supports a second judge in part because of the strain on other counties in the district.

“We have had an out-of-county judge going to Green County regularly for the last four or five years, but the citizens of Green County deserve to have their cases decided by someone they elect,” said Nowakowski, who served on the Work-load Assessment Advisory Committee which reviewed the NCSC study.

Beer attributed the consistent need for reserve judges to increased criminal felony and misdemeanor cases. He agreed that county residents should have justice served by someone they chose, rather than a visiting judge appointed to a case.

“Look at any county that relies on reserve judges and it’s going to be someone who wasn’t elected in that county judg[ing] matters there,” said Beer. “That’s not how things should work on a regular basis.”
Legislative Decision

A bill lis
ting counties recommended for judicial assistance is expected to be drafted by the Director of State Courts Office this spring with input from state circuit court judges.

Whether Green County will be on that list is unknown, but Beer believes all the elements are in place for at least inclusion in the bill, if not state approval.

“I feel we’ve done all we can to get a second branch and this is probably the best shot we’ll ever have,” said Beer.

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