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Proposal would remove financial-disclosure requirement for certain court staff

The Director of State Courts’ Office is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to eliminate requirements calling for the disclosure of financial relationships by certain court employees, such as the director of state courts, supreme court commissioners and staff attorneys for the Court of Appeals.

According to Wis. Stat. 19.43, state officials and candidates for various court offices must file so-called “statements of economic interests,” identifying financial connections such as investors in their business interests, as well as their and their families’ employers, creditors and real estate holdings.

The filing requirements extend to the governor, district attorneys, the attorney general, municipal judges and constitutional officers such as trial court judges, Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices. The statements are filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.

The high court’s Judicial Code, in addition to also requiring judges, justices and judicial candidates to file the statements, requires certain court employees to file statements of economic interests.

Those employees include the director of state courts, circuit-court commissioners, supplemental court commissioners, Supreme Court commissioners and staff attorneys for the Court of Appeals.

In a rule-petition filed with the high court on Nov. 9, Deputy Director of Court Operations Diane Fremgen called for the elimination of the requirements for those particular court employees.

Fremgen wrote in a memo that the proposal stems from a rules review occasioned by changes that were made to how the commission manages court staff employees’ statements of economic.

The proposed changes would promote efficiency and coordination with the commission, she wrote.

Fremgen also noted that the commission does not recognize court employees as “required filers” and has, for many years, taken the position that it does not have statutory authority to distribute, file or maintain the forms those court employees file. In the past, a Supreme Court commissioner has handled those duties.

Should the high court reject her proposal, Fremgen is recommending that the justices amend the threshold that determines when supplemental court commissioners are required to file statements of economic interests. Her proposal would require them to file only if they work 500 or more hours a year as a supplemental court commissioner, up from the current threshold of 40 hours a year.

“The current 40-hour per year threshold set in the rule is very low,” Fremgen wrote in the memo. “This requirement raises a number of questions and concerns each year from supplemental court commissioners.”

In a memo filed with the petition, Fremgen argued that since her recommended changes would not affect any substantive rights nor affect legal practice, pleading or procedures in judicial proceedings, the justices do not need to hold a public hearing on the proposal.


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

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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