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Walker targets Judicial Council — again

The Judicial Council is again in Gov. Scott Walker’s crosshairs.

According to budget documents released Wednesday, Walker is proposing to eliminate the council and transfer the staff attorney position held by April Southwick to the Supreme Court, which can create a similar body by rule.

Walker proposed the council’s elimination last session, but the Joint Finance Committee, a powerful panel of lawmakers, later rejected the plan and decided to have the council completely financed by the Supreme Court’s revenue from the Director of State Courts and State Law Library programs.

The state Legislature created the Wisconsin Judicial Council in 1951 as an independent judicial branch agency. The 21-member body is responsible for studying and making recommendations related to court practices, procedures and the administration of state courts.

The council also drafts and updates the state’s civil procedure, appellate procedure and rules of evidence.

Walker on Wednesday is also renewing his call for transferring control of the state’s Judicial Commission to the state Supreme Court. The commission is a 14-member body created in 1978 that – independent of the state Supreme Court – oversees all state judges, reserve and municipal judges, and, later, court commissioners.

Wisconsin law makes justices and judges subject to disciplinary measures or removal for misconduct or permanent disability. The procedures by which justices and judges may be disciplined begin with an investigation by the Judicial Commission, followed by a hearing. The Supreme Court then makes the final determination.

In March 2012, for example, the Judicial Commission alleged that Justice David Prosser had violated judicial codes of conduct in 2011 when he wrapped his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s neck during a heated argument in her chambers.

The Judicial Commission’s nine attorney members currently are appointed by the state Supreme Court and the governor appoints its five non-lawyer members. Members may serve up to two consecutive three-year terms.

About Erika Strebel,

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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