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High court to tackle business courts, conditional bar admission

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hold public hearings Thursday on proposals to set up business courts and change the rules governing conditional admissions to the State Bar.

The first hearing will start at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the state Capitol’s Supreme Court Hearing Room. Afterward, the justices will discuss the proposals in an open rules conference.

The first hearing will be on a proposal to set up specialized courts charged with handling business-related cases. The idea comes from a committee — composed of judges, attorneys, and the secretary of the state Department of Financial institutions — which Chief Justice Pat Roggensack convened in the fall.

The proposal calls on the justices to set up test business courts modeled on those found in other states. Roggensack and the other justices voted in November to approve the petition, calling for the public to weigh in.

According to the plan, business courts will first be tested in Waukesha County and the Eighth Judicial District, which encompasses Marinette, Oconto, Door, Kewaunee, Brown, Outagamie and Waupaca counties. The trial run is scheduled to end in July 2020.

Under the proposal, Wisconsin’s business courts would be allowed to handle only cases arising between two business entities. These might include disputes over intellectual property rights, internal affairs and securities. Excluded would be cases involving small-claims consumers, labor organizations, landlords and tenants, residential foreclosures, the government and similar matters.

Waukesha County would have two judges who, in addition to their regular duties, would devote part of their time to hearing business-court cases. The Eighth Judicial District would have five judges assigned to the business court’s docket.

Several members of the public are expected to testify at Thursday’s hearing.

Others have already weighed in with written comments. The Wisconsin Bankers Association filed comments in support of the plan and is suggesting that Dane County be included in the test run. The State Bar’s Business Law Section has also used written comments to express support.

Not everyone is in favor, though. District 3 Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Stark has warned that the court might be jumping into the test run without having evidence or resources to show the specialized courts are actually needed.

Following the hearing on business courts, the justices are scheduled on Thursday to hear a petition proposing changes to the procedures for conditionally admitting lawyers to practice in the state.

Lawyers often seek a conditional admission after they’ve violated professional and ethical rules and been disciplined.

To be conditionally admitted, lawyers usually must agree to meet certain conditions such as drug-test monitoring or supervision by another member of the bar. The proposal, submitted in September by the Board of Bar Examiners, would let the high court consult filed documents or appoint a referee when deciding whether a requested conditional admission was appropriate.

So far, only the State Bar has weighed in. The bar’s Board of Governors voted at its meeting in December to approve the proposal. The bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program committee also voiced support during the same meeting.


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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