Two Milwaukee County Circuit Court judges – Jeffrey A. Conen and Jeffrey Wagner – led the courts in facing review on appeal in 2010. Both were reviewed 23 times in 2010, and affirmed 23 times, without reversal.
“It’s certainly gratifying to hear that,” Judge Wagner said. “We all try to do our best.”
Judge Conen echoed the sentiment. “I just try to work as hard as I can and reach the correct decision.”
Only two other judges were reviewed more than a dozen times without reversal. Waukesha County Judge Ralph M. Ramirez was reviewed and affirmed 16 times, and Milwaukee County Judge William Brash was reviewed and affirmed 13 times.
Judge Wagner has long been the most frequently reviewed judge in the state. Since the Wisconsin Law Journal began keeping track starting Jan. 1, 2000, he has been affirmed 208 times, and reversed in only 15, a 93 percent rate of affirmance.
The accompanying charts show not only how the state’s circuit court judges fared when their decisions were reviewed in the Court of Appeals, but how circuit court judges fared if their decisions were ultimately reviewed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2010.
Of Wisconsin circuit court judges with cases ultimately considered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, three judges were reviewed twice and affirmed both times: Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Patricia McMahon and former Milwaukee County Judge Joseph R. Wall; and Walworth County Circuit Court Judge Michael S. Gibbs.
Judge McMahon also fared well in the Court of Appeals in 2010, with 21 affirmances and only one reversal.
Only full decisions included on the Wisconsin Court System’s website are counted, not summary decisions by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
Also, despite efforts to avoid such errors, a judge could be listed in the decision as the presiding judge being reversed, even if he merely entered an order consistent with the law of the case as established by another judge; or a judge could be reversed in the Court of Appeals, and ultimately be affirmed in the Supreme Court, but the earlier reversal would nevertheless remain counted as a reversal in the Court of Appeals.
And, of course, the law changes; a judge’s holding could be entirely consistent with binding precedent at the time it was issued, and be reversed only because a subsequent decision changed the law.
Nevertheless, the project has been continued over the last 11 years in the belief that the effect of potential occasional errors in the methodology in any given year will be minimal relative to individual judges’ performance over an extended period of time.
David Ziemer can be reached at email@example.com.