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High court hears from attorneys about launch of business courts (UPDATE)

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//February 16, 2017//

High court hears from attorneys about launch of business courts (UPDATE)

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//February 16, 2017//

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard hours of testimony on Thursday from lawyers, judges and others about a plan to begin using separate state courts for business litigation.

The justices had given the business-courts proposal their approval in November in a 5-2 vote. A committee of judges, attorneys and the secretary of the state Department of Financial Institutions devised the plan after being charged with that task by Chief Justice Pat Roggensack in the fall.

According to the plans the justices approved in November, 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.

The purpose of Thursday’s public hearing was to hear about any changes that practitioners and others think should be made before the trial run begins. Nearly a dozen attorneys, judges and other stakeholders from across the state spoke. Some came from as far away as Green Bay and Marinette County.

Among those appearing before the judges was Lucas Vebber, general counsel and director of environmental law and policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin State Bar President Fran Deisinger, and Laura Brenner, a lawyer at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren. John Rothstein, a lawyer at Quarles & Brady, delivered a presentation on the behalf of the committee that had proposed the business-courts plan.

Proponents of business courts said they were trying to bring Wisconsin in line with other states.

“It’s important to highlight that Wisconsin is an outlier in this area,” Vebber said. “Business courts are the norm nationwide. … It’s a red flag out there.”

The same hearing saw the two justices considered to be liberal-leaning — Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson — grill Rothstein and others about the plan. They noted concerns that had been raised in a letter to the court by Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Stark.

Stark has warned that the court might be jumping into its test run without having evidence or resources showing that specialized business courts are actually needed.

“I’m telling you this is a letter you should not brush off,” Bradley said. “I read her letter as saying, ‘OK, you want a business court. Let’s do this in a business way.’”

Both Abrahamson and Bradley also repeatedly noted that the court had voted to approve the petition before a public hearing had been held. Both had voted against the business courts plan.

Bradley and Roggensack clashed at the conference afterward, starting after Bradley said she wished the project success but was concerned about the court’s image.

“We have an image problem,” Bradley said.

“What do you mean by that? I find that so offensive,” Roggensack fired back.

Bradley said that when she mentioned to someone that there was a public hearing about business courts, that person asked why a business court was needed because one already exists.

“That means the Wisconsin Supreme Court is so business-oriented that there is no reason to create one,” said Bradley. “There are others that think this court is absolutely wonderful, but we have to take into consideration that there are two sides to this point.”

The court also had a separate hearing Thursday on a petition involving the conditional admission of lawyers to the state bar. The justices heard from Jacquelynn Rothstein, director of the Board of Bar Examiners, an 11-member panel appointed by the high court to admit lawyers to practice in Wisconsin and ensure they are fulfilling their continuing-education requirements.


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