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Bar starts its cash call-outs

Court_Gestures_300x100_The State Bar is starting a bit early in its attempts to get more money for the courts system in the next year’s budget.

The bar put out a news release Wednesday highlighting the newest issue of its magazine, Wisconsin Lawyer. In it is a piece written by state courts Director John Voelker, who is pushing hard for an increase in the court’s budget during the next biennium. It lays out a proposal to increase the percentage of state tax revenue that the court receives from 0.85 percent to 1 percent, as well as the reasons why Voelker feels the court needs it.

According to the release, the bar is “actively lobbying legislators and the administration to ensure that the court system is provided the resources necessary to carry out its constitutional and statutory obligations.”

Still, the bar has a long way to go. As I wrote in the story in March:

“Collections from clerks of court are shrinking, as are county budgets, which can at least in part be attributed to the economic downturn. Voelker said in March that those cuts have resulted in about 15 percent of the positions he is allowed to have being left vacant.

It also means the state’s court system is sending less money to the counties, which are capped at how much they can bring in each year and how much they have to send back to the state.

In addition, the state has required the courts cut $11.8 million from the budget by June 30, 2015.”

And those interviewed for the story in March said the issue was either not on their radar or that the court’s budget didn’t need to be increased. Bar President Patrick Fiedler said Wednesday that he didn’t know if they were able to convince any legislators of the court’s needs.

I guess Voelker’s piece is a good start, though. That magazine goes to all 24,000-plus members of the bar. Their hope is that some of them – maybe even just a few – call their legislator.

Fiedler also said a subcommittee of the bar’s Bench Bar Committee – which has Supreme Court Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Annette Ziegler on it – are also examining the budgetary issues.

He said he expects lobbying efforts to ramp up by the fall when budget requests are being complied and sent to Gov. Scott Walker’s office.

The problem, though, is that there aren’t many hard-and-fast examples of something dramatic happening when a court budget is slashed. Voelker even admitted this when I interviewed him in March.

Fiedler said, though, that even the smallest cases deserve to get resolution as quickly as possible. If the court’s budget is low, he said that is less likely.

“To me, it’s important everybody has their day in court and in a timely manner,” Fiedler said.

Staff writer Eric Heisig writes his Court Gestures blog for the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at eric.heisig@wislawjournal.com.

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