The Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued nearly 800 decisions in 2016 and affirmed circuit-court judges throughout the state about 86 percent of the time. Of the cases that the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose to review, the justices released 42 decisions and affirmed trial-court judges 65 percent of the time.
The Wisconsin Law Journal conducted the review by looking at decisions released by both courts from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31.
Here’s the breakdown by district:
- The District 1 Court of Appeals, which comprises all of Milwaukee County, affirmed circuit-court judges 93 percent of the time.
- In District 2, the affirmation rate was 85 percent.
- In District 3, it was 81 percent.
- In District 4, it was 82 percent.
In District 3, Presiding Judge Lisa Stark said she saw little that differentiated 2016 from other years. For a while, the court noticed a slight uptick in foreclosure appeals, Stark said, but that has since trailed off.
She noted, however, that her district heard a few more civil cases than criminal cases.
Typically, the district sees an equal number of appeals in both categories.
“I will say that although we have more civil appeals, we’re not seeing a lot of personal-injury cases,” she said. “They seem to be business or family cases.”
For Stark, the most significant trend in 2016 has been an increase in pro se litigants.
“More in my opinion, we’ve seen more self-represented litigants on appeal than we have seen in the past,” she said.
Stark also noted that the court issued many one-judge decisions involving appeals filed in response to denials of motions to suppress evidence in drunken-driving cases. State law can require a single judge to hear an appeal in certain types of cases rather than the more typically seen three-judge panel.
“In the past it’s been more spread out as far as the types we hear,” Stark said.
Among trial-court judges, those who had the most decisions affirmed by the appeals court in 2016 included:
- Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Wagner, whom the District 1 appeals court affirmed 20 times with just one reversal.
- Milwaukee County Circuit Court judges Glenn Yamahiro, Mark Sanders, Stephanie Rothstein and Christopher Foley, who were each affirmed 11 times with no reversals
- Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Pocan and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas, who were affirmed 10 times with no reversals
- Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet, whom District 1 affirmed 11 times with one reversal.
Here’s how circuit court judges fared before the state Supreme Court
The Wisconsin Law Journal has compiled a comprehensive review of all circuit-court decisions that the Wisconsin Supreme Court took up in 2016. Below is a complete listing of both the judges who initially ruled on the cases that went before the justices and of whether the high court affirmed or reversed the appealed decision.
— Data gathered by Erika Strebel
How circuit court judges fared before the state Court of Appeals in 2016
In compiling these data, we counted only full decisions that were both handed down by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and that were listed on the Wisconsin Court System. Summary decisions were excluded.
Also important to note is that judges could be listed here as a presiding judges who were reversed, even though all they really did was to enter an order consistent with case law established by another judge.
Similarly, a judge’s decision could be reversed by the Court of Appeals but ultimately be affirmed by the State Supreme Court. In a case of this sort, the previous reversal would still count as a reversal by the Court of Appeals.
It’s also worth pointing out that as the law changes, so can a judge’s holding. When it was issued, a holding could be entirely consistent with binding precedent and yet later be reversed because a subsequent decision changed the law.
— Data gathered by Erika Strebel