Members of the Judicial Council recently met for the first time since the Wisconsin Supreme Court had pulled the agency’s budget, coming together in the War Room of the State Bar Center in Madison.
Although the name of the meeting room’s name carried suggestions that the members were convening to prepare for a fight – their concerns were more about the continued existence of the council.
The council is a 21-member independent body charged with studying and advising the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Legislature on changes to the state’s rules of procedure. Gov. Scott Walker has twice proposed eliminating the council. Although lawmakers in the state Legislature have yet to heed that recommendation, they did elect to not set aside any money in the state budget this year to pay for the council’s staff or operations.
That decision left questions about the future of the council largely up to the state Supreme Court. And the justices have said they have no interest in continuing to foot the bill for the council’s operations.
The council responded to its precarious position on Friday with a vote on motions that call for its executive committee to take steps to establish a new home for the council and its files and find a meeting space for the council and its committees.
The council authorized its executive committee to seek out assistance from the Wisconsin State Bar in its search for meeting space and its consideration of whether the bar could provide support staff. The motion also instructed the committee to reach out to State Law Library about the possibility of finding a place to store the council’s archives.
Tom Shriner, a council member, said that he had spoken with State Bar President Paul Swanson and the Madison attorney Jon Axelrod and received assurances that the council won’t be turned away.
“I think we’re going to find a welcome at the bar and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the case,” Shriner said. “For now, I think we ought to be planning to meet at the State Bar (Center).”
However, John Orton, another member, warned that the State Bar may not be the answer to the council’s troubles.
“It’s going to be a real problem for the State Bar to provide much in the way of resources for us,” he said. “To say that their budget is tight is an understatement. We need to start a conversation and see where that leaves us.”
The council also voted separately to direct its executive committee to ensure both the public and practitioners could communicate either electronically or by mail, and explore options for office space.
Bill Gleisner, a member who noted that he is retired from practice, offered to handle some of the duties of the council’s former staff attorney, April Southwick, such as doing legal research and keeping tabs on the council’s rule-change proposals that are pending before the state supreme court.
“I’m on the council for the next two years as a representative of State Bar,” Gleisner said. “I am very willing to do as much as I can to assist this council in this difficult time.”
The council is scheduled to next meet on Dec. 15, tentatively in the War Room of the State Bar Center.
Orton asked Shriner, who had most recently appeared before the court to defend one of the council’s petitions, whether the court had done anything to suggest that the council ought to cease its work.
“What is your reading on whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court wants us to continue to do our work and present petitions to it if we are, in the eyes of the court, an unnecessary body that should be defunded?” Orton said. “In the eyes of the court, are we wasting our time?”
Shriner responded that he had received no indication of the court’s position.
“My own view is that we ought to proceed forward until someone says no,” he said. “They’ve obviously made it difficult for us without giving us money. But I’ve seen no indication that the court doesn’t appreciate what we’re doing.”Follow @erikastrebel