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Budget reinstates half of Judicial Council’s annual costs

The Wisconsin Judicial Council will remain in business, with a paid staff attorney, after the state budget signed Sunday by Gov. Scott Walker included money to maintain the agency.

But the 2011-13 budget only pays for half the annual operating costs of the council, providing $69,700 of the $127,700 the council was given in the state’s 2009-11 budget.

Staff Attorney April Southwick, who earns $58,000 per year, said she plans to remain with the council. She is the council’s only paid staff member.

It is unclear whether the council will be able to support her salary and maintain its Madison office space with the approved money.

Earlier this year, it appeared both Southwick and the council’s Madison office space would be cut due to a drastic proposed chop to the council’s budget.

In April, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to eliminate the majority of the council’s $127,700 budget.  As it was proposed at that time, Southwick said the council would have retained $11,800 of its annual budget to cover minimal supplies and mileage reimbursement, but the significantly scaled-back budget would have forced the council to eliminate the office space and her position.

On June 3, the finance committee reversed its position and partially restored money for the council. Those restorations were included in the final version of the budget that Walker signed Sunday.

The council, which was created in 1951, is comprised of 21 judges, attorneys and others charged with advising the Legislature, governor and court system on policy, operational and other issues.

Until 1995, the council operated with a staff attorney as well as an administrative assistant. From 1995 to 2007 the council operated without a staff attorney. Southwick took over the position in 2008.

“I think the Legislature made significant progress towards doing the right thing,” incoming council member Bill Gleisner said. “Obviously, it would be good if they could restore all of the funding, and I hope they go the entire way.”

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