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Home / News / Budget panel votes to eliminate judicial position, office (UPDATE)

Budget panel votes to eliminate judicial position, office (UPDATE)

MADISON (AP) – The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has voted to eliminate the only staff position that coordinates activity of the Judicial Council.

Gov. Scott Walker had proposed continuing to pay for the attorney position, which Judicial Council Attorney April Southwick said accounts for “less than half” of the council’s $127,700 a year budget. But the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to eliminate the position, keeping the council active as a part of the Judicial Commission.

Southwick said the council would retain $11,800 of its annual budget to cover minimal supplies and mileage reimbursement, but the significantly scaled-back budget would eliminate the office space and her position.

The motion was made by Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman, an attorney served on the council in the 1990s. But he says during tough budget times the money spent for the position could be better used elsewhere.


The council is comprised of 21 judges, attorneys and others charged with advising the Legislature, governor and court system on policy, operational and other issues.

NOTE: The original version of this story from the Associated Press incorrectly stated the Judicial Council’s entire annual budget of $127,700 as Southwick’s annual salary. The updated, corrected story appears above.


  1. This is a penny-wise and pound-foolish move. The work product of the Judicial Council is excellent. The Council is the only entity involving lawyers, judges and legislators that works to improve our system of justice. Scott Walker included funding for the sole staff member who coordinates the meetings and workings of the Council. Now the Joint Finance Committee has voted to eliminate that position.

    That would effectively neuter the Council by forcing one of its twenty-one members to coordinate matters. That is a full-time job. The function of the Judicial Commission is focused on judicial discipline, not improving our legal system. Merging the two would be a mistake. Over the years the Council has been responsible for many important improvements to the administration of justice. Even-handed and non-partisan, without an effective Judicial Council our entire system of justice will suffer.

  2. The Judicial Council represents something unique and important in our Wisconsin Jurisprudence which is all the more vital in these challenging times. Pursuant to Wis. Stats. 758.13, the Council draws its membership from all three Branches of Wisconsin Government. It provides an unparalleled opportunity for all three Branches to meet together for the purposes of researching, reflecting upon and evaluating the operation of our Court system, and the rules which govern its operation. All members of the Bench and Bar would be the poorer if this institution were allowed to lapse as it did in 1995-97, or if it were to be diminished because of the termination of its staff counsel.

    However, I respectfully submit that it is our Bar Association which would suffer the most by the lapse or diminishment of this unique institution. Even though we have an integrated Bar Association, where else can the members of the Bar and their representatives have such a direct opportunity to help craft rules and have input directly into the administration of Justice? Of course, the Bar has committees and often participates in a number of very meaningful and often effective ways in interfacing with the Legislature and the Supreme Court. But what other institution allows for representatives of the Bar to meet on a regular basis with representatives of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of our Government for the purposes set forth in 758.13(2)?

    We would all like to think that volunteers could manage and direct the mandate of 758.13(2) but the reality is that a staff attorney, such as April Southwick, is essential to insuring that each of the statutory obligations of the Council are fulfilled properly. After observing her for the past four years, I can assure you that April does a fantastic job! Another reason why a staff attorney is necessary has to do with the reality of the Council. Bluntly, the Council is a forum where three different Branches of our State Government meet and thus a proper administration of such a difficult interaction cries out for a competent and firm staff attorney.

    There are those who suggest that a paid staffer for the Council is unnecessary because lawyers and lobbyists can do the job of the Council for free. That might be an option if one were only dealing with the Legislature and the Executive Branches of government. However, how could it ever be appropriate to allow lobbyists to approach the Supreme Court? As for lawyers, in most instances the Court will only allow for input through our litigational system. On those occasions where public hearings are held and rules considered, the Court is very busy. It has precious little time to research and consider proposed rules or amendments to rules. It is far better for the Court and the quality of the rules it adopts if there is an institution which can study rules, research them, vet them and put them out for public comment before the Supreme Court calls a public hearing. I can tell you from personal experience that the Council and its subcommittees regularly reach out to the Bar and elicit comments and even testimony from the Bar before rules are even considered, let alone drafted.

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