In addition to its case deciding, administrative and regulatory functions, the Supreme Court and the chief justice have initiated programs designed to improve the effectiveness of the court system. Following are brief descriptions of some recent initiatives.
Wisconsin Families, Children and Justice
Family problems that require court intervention constitute an increasingly large portion of the work of Wisconsin courts. Serving families in crisis is one of the most important functions of the court system and there is growing national concern that the services these families receive may not be adequate.
In an effort to address the concern, the Supreme Court, through the Director of State Courts Office, has been involved since 1995 in an initiative called Wisconsin Families, Children and Justice . Work began with an assessment of Wisconsin's handling of cases involving abused and/or neglected children, known as Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) cases. A three-day statewide conference entitled "A Coordinated Approach to Family Law Cases" was also held. Pilot projects designed to improve courts' handling of issues faced by families in the courts are now underway across the state.
Judicial career enhancement
To ensure that the Wisconsin judiciary maintains its high quality, the Supreme Court seeks to enhance judicial careers in Wisconsin, whether by assisting judges with their daily workload or by offering them opportunities to expand their professional horizons in the following ways:
Student assistance to judges
The chief justice began a program, now administered through the Office of Court Operations, for law student volunteers to assist circuit and Court of Appeals judges during the summer months.
Circuit Court/Court of Appeals judicial exchange
In a 1997 pilot program, circuit court and Court of Appeals judges in north central Wisconsin had the opportunity to exchange roles. This program gave the judges a deeper understanding of the practices, procedures and problems faced by their colleagues. The chief justice, exercising her constitutional power to assign active judges to the Court of Appeals and circuit courts to aid in the disposition of matters in those courts, began the program. In early 1998, it was repeated with an exchange between the District IV Court of Appeals (headquartered in Madison) and the circuit court in Dane County. Six circuit and three appellate judges participated. In 1999, judges on the District II Court of Appeals (headquartered in Waukesha) and judges in the circuit courts in Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Sheboygan, Washington and Waukesha counties participated in the exchange.
Judicial programs abroad
The chief justice continues to seek opportunities for Wisconsin judges to participate in educational and technical programs abroad. Since 1996, judges have taken part in programs in Brazil, China, Lithuania, Russia and the Ukraine, and the Wisconsin judiciary has hosted judges from abroad.
- Great Lakes Court Summit
To foster communication among state courts and to recognize state courts' role in the globalization of law, the Supreme Court sponsored an education program for supreme court justices and court administrators from four states (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin) and Canada in fall of 1998. The conference was funded by a grant from the State Justice Institute.
Public outreach and input
The Wisconsin Supreme Court seeks to foster court-community collaboration by engaging in a variety of public outreach activities and by involving the public in the work of the courts.
Collaboration with the legislative and executive branches
The three branches of our state government have a common goal-to serve the public. Although separate and independent, the three branches must find ways to work together to the end of serving the people of Wisconsin. The court system continues to seek new opportunities for better communication, cooperation and collaboration with its partners in the legislative and executive branches of state government and also with its partners in county and local government. A few examples follow:
Three-branch discussion group
An informal three-branch discussion group, organized by the chief justice, fosters ongoing dialogue among the three branches of government. The group meets three or four times a year to talk about topics of interest to all participants.
Meetings with legislative committees
In 1997, the Supreme Court for the first time held a series of meetings with legislative committees, including the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees and the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee. The purpose of these informal meetings was to identify issues of mutual concern and to discuss questions each group had about the other.
- Orientation of new legislators
In January 1999, the Supreme Court participated in the Pre-session Conference for New Legislators, an orientation program for new legislators that has been put on by the Legislative Council for more than 30 years.