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High court votes to repeal dead man’s statute

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has voted to repeal an antiquated witness competency statute that has plagued some practitioners.

The justices on Monday granted a petition repealing the state’s dead man’s statute, which stems from old common-law standards used to determine witness competency. Many states have abandoned their dead man’s statutes or limited when they apply.

The statute generally prevents witnesses from testifying under oath about a transaction reached with a person who has since died.

Before the justices voted at Monday’s rules conference, they heard a presentation from the Judicial Council, which had petitioned the court to repeal the statute. Representing the council were Staff Attorney April Southwick and Tom Shriner, a council member and Milwaukee attorney with Foley & Lardner.

The justices also heard testimony from Jonathan Ingrisano and Jonathan Smies, trusts and estates attorneys with Godfrey & Kahn. They urged the justices to repeal the statute.

State Bar Governor Jeff Goldman, an attorney with DeWitt Ross & Stevens, also weighed in, though he said he came only to inform the justices and did not have a position about repealing the statute.

The justices on Monday also voted to add a provision in the final language of the order for the repeal that would give trial courts discretion as to whether the statute would apply in pending cases.

Once the justices approve the final language of the order, the repeal will take effect on July 1, 2017.

The repeal of the dead man’s statute was only part of the petition before the court on Monday. The petition also included the repeal of a statute that creates confidentiality between a student and a dean. The justices voted to dismiss that portion of the petition.

About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

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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