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Lawmakers to decide whether to can Judicial Council

A powerful panel of state lawmakers will be voting Monday on whether to advance a proposal to eliminate an independent body that proposes changes and revisions to the state’s rules of procedure.

The Joint Committee on Finance will meet Monday at 2 p.m. in Room 412 East in the state Capitol to consider various provisions in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget.

One provision would eliminate Wisconsin’s Judicial Council, a 21-member body created in 1951 by the state Legislature. The change would save more than $200,00 over the biennium, according to budget documents.

The 21-member body is composed of lawyers, judges prosecutors, other practitioners and lawmakers who volunteer their time to research various changes in the law. The council has one full-time employee: April Southwick, a staff attorney whose position would be eliminated should the governor’s proposal be adopted.

The Joint Finance Committee is also to decide on Monday whether to advance a separate recommendation calling for the administration of the Judicial Commission, a body that regulates the state’s trial and appellate judges and justices, to be placed in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Addressing the Joint Finance Committee in March, Chief Justice Pat Roggensack asked members to not adopt the budget provisions concerning the council and commission. She said both bodies do their work effectively and that the proposed changes would not save money. She also said that transferring the Judicial Commission to the Supreme Court would give rise to conflicts of interest.

This is the second budget in a row that has seen Walker call for the elimination of the council and the transfer of the administration of the Judicial Commission. When confronted with the similar proposal in the state’s previous legislative session, lawmakers chose to reject the plan and instead have the council funded completely by revenue the Supreme Court receives from the Director of State Courts and State Law Library programs.

Also on Monday, the Joint Finance Committee will be taking up Walker’s proposal to increase judicial salaries, which Roggensack encouraged the panel to adopt.

Walker has proposed a new system for compensating judges. On top of that, he would set aside $334,000 to provide one-time, 2 percent raises to judges in 2018 and 2019. Rather than say where the money would come from for future raises, he leaves that matter up to the Supreme Court.

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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