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Justices strike down rules changes, approve appellate record e-filing

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has taken a step toward clearing some items off its to-do list.

The justices at Monday’s open rules conference, on a motion from Justice Annette Ziegler, removed three petitions for rules changes from its docket.

“Forming committees is not a rule,” she said Monday. “It can be done anytime.”

Specifically, Ziegler moved to dismiss Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s petition calling for a committee to review the Office of Lawyer Regulation, as well as two petitions relating to the creation of a committee to review the state’s judicial code.

“These are requests to form committees, plain and simple,” said Ziegler.

The justices voted 5-2 to dismiss the petitions. The two votes in opposition came from Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

Although the petitions have been dismissed, Supreme Court Commissioner Julie Rich said that the vote does not mean the justices will not at a later date take up the issues laid out in those petitions.

The justices also on Monday unanimously approved a petition allowing courts, starting July 1, to electronically transmit records for cases on appeal.

The change will not require trial courts to use electronic means to send records on appeal; the courts will merely instead be allowed to use e-filing if they choose to do so.

The court has not yet given an official order concerning the rule, and a small adjustment to the rule’s language still needs to be made. Rich said she expects an order to come out some time this week.

The petition for the change came from Diane Fremgen, clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. She said Tuesday that the justices’ approval also means that that Consolidated Court Automation Programs will most likely work with some counties to test out the new system in early 2016.

Under the proposed rules, documents in the record will still be submitted in paper form but will then be scanned into computers by trial-court clerks, who will then destroy the paper versions after 48 hours. Judges and attorneys will still have the option of printing out portions of the record.

Jim Smith, Deputy Clerk of Circuit Court for Milwaukee County, said he and his staff are looking forward to the change.

Milwaukee County allows some cases to be filed electronically. Yet when a case gets appealed, every page must be printed out and paginated by hand.

“We’d rather do the work to scan a case and submit it electronically,” he said.

The new rule also means trial courts no longer have to pay postage to send records on appeal to the Supreme Court Clerk. The court of appeals, for its part, will not have to pay postage to send the records between its district offices and the Supreme Court Clerk’s office.

Smith said that in many cases, postage is charged to appellants at the trial court level. The new change will help the court in Milwaukee function more efficiently because staff members outside of the civil division often deal with appeals, in addition to doing other work.

Fremgen had originally petitioned for the new rule to take effect on Jan. 1, but the date was moved back after the conference on the then-proposed rule was cancelled so that the newly appointed Justice Rebecca Bradley, who had been sworn in the day before, could become familiar with the petitions the justices were considering. Gov. Scott Walker appointed Bradley on Oct. 9 to take a spot on the bench that was left vacant by the sudden death of Justice Patrick Crooks.

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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