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Chief justice election among Senate bills awaiting action

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//February 23, 2012//

Chief justice election among Senate bills awaiting action

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//February 23, 2012//

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Three state Senate proposals that could affect the legal community are still standing as the Legislature nears the end of its regular session March 15.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce and Government Operations advanced proposals to establish pay progression for assistant district attorneys, allow hearsay evidence at preliminary examinations and require elections for chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Senate Joint Resolution 36 proposes a constitutional amendment to change the way the chief justice of the Supreme Court is chosen, switching from seniority-based selection to a vote by the seven justices on the court every time there is an election or re-election of a justice.

The proposal passed, 3-2, on party lines, with Republican Sens. Rich Zipperer, the sponsor of the bill, Neal Kedzie and Pam Galloway voting in favor and Democratic Sens. Jon Erpenbach and Fred Risser voting in opposition.

Zipperer previously said the change would increase accountability on the court.

Erpenbach said the switch would divide the court because the election would make the process political.

Senate Bill 394 would establish a 17-step pay progression system for assistant district attorneys as a way to retain prosecutors. The state eliminated pay progression in 2002, and a 2011 study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s LaFollette School of Public Affairs showed that 246 of the state’s 303 assistant district attorneys left their jobs between 2001 and 2007.

The bill unanimously passed through committee.

Senate Bill 399 would allow hearsay evidence at preliminary hearings. The motive is to make preliminary hearings more efficient by excusing witnesses from having to physically appear in court before trial.

But some judges and defense attorneys have said the change would lead to concerns about the reliability of testimony and render the hearings useless.

The committee unanimously passed the bill.

All three proposals are awaiting scheduling for a floor session in the Senate.


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