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High court OKs dissolving sixth judicial administrative district

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has approved a reorganization of the state’s judicial administrative districts.

Randy Koschnick, director of state courts, filed a petition this year for a Supreme Court rule change that proposes reducing the number of the state’s judicial districts from 10 to nine. It was the first petition Koschnick has filed since starting the job on Aug. 1.

After receiving written comments from the public, the justices approved Koschnick’s proposal in an order issued on Wednesday.

The judicial districts now divide the state’s 72 counties into 10 areas that are overseen by a chief judge, who is appointed by the Supreme Court and manages the administration of the district. The chief judge is helped by two employees of the Office of the Director of State Courts, a district court administrator and a court management assistant.

Koschnick’s plan dissolves the Sixth Judicial District and reassigns the 11 counties in that district to five of the remaining districts.

The Sixth Judicial District includes Clark, Wood, Portage, Juneau, Adams, Waushara, Marquette, Green Lake, Columbia, Dodge and Sauk counties.

Koschnick’s plan redistributes those counties to other districts and would save the court system $250,000 annually, based largely on savings in salaries, fringe benefits and office leases.

During the public comment period, the Waushara County Board of Supervisors and Waushara County Administrator Robert Sivick submitted letters of opposition to the proposal.

Columbia County Clerk of Court Susan Raimer also wrote to the court on behalf of the clerks of court in the Sixth Judicial District, saying they were disappointed that they had not been asked their opinions as the proposal was being developed but would now adjust as needed.

Juneau County Circuit Court Judge Paul Curran wrote to the court, calling the petition “short on data and long on conclusions.”

Even before the public-comment period, the court heard from various other judges who spoke both in support of and in opposition to the plan. Judges Barbara Key, James Morrison and Robert VanDeHey were among those who wrote that they supported the proposal.

Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley dissented from Wednesday’s order. Abrahamson contended, among other things, that state law requires the court to hold a public hearing on Koschnick’s petition.

She also berated the court for voting last term to end its practice of keeping its administrative conferences and deliberations on rule-change petitions open to the public.

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