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The Third Branch

Court budget request includes support for counties, eFiling, treatment courts

The Wisconsin court system submitted its 2015-17 state budget request to the governor's budget office on Oct. 1.

The request advances a commitment to the people of Wisconsin to ensure that the Wisconsin courts have the resources necessary to meet the constitutional obligations of the judiciary, said Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson.

The budget would provide an additional $8.6 million annually to the county payment programs to restore the level of state funding to the circuit courts that existed 15 years ago, the time of the last increase to the payment programs. Counties have increased their share of court funding over the years, and state funding has not kept up.

The budget request also would help continue the court system's focus on smart, innovative approaches to enhancing public safety, reducing recidivism and addressing underlying issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse, that may be a contributing factor toward criminal behavior in some cases.

This includes state funding for a statewide problem-solving courts coordinator to continue the work being done by a temporary grant-funded position that will end in June 2015. The statewide coordinator provides assistance not only to the court system as a whole, but to the counties and judges using treatment courts, state agencies, and the statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. In addition to Supreme Court support, the Legislative Council's Study Committee on Problem-Solving Courts voted to recommend that permanent state funding be provided for this statewide coordinator position.

The budget request also includes $2.1 million start-up funding for two years to implement eFiling throughout the circuit courts. As of Oct. 24, Wisconsin circuit courts provide attorneys and pro se litigants with the ability to electronically file and receive court documents for certain case types. This budget item would expand eFiling to all circuit courts for all types of cases, and would provide judges, clerks of court, attorneys and litigants a more efficient, affordable and convenient system.

The budget request also seeks increased compensation for judges to bring their salaries more in line with other Midwest states. Additionally, the budget request calls for the creation of a Wisconsin Judicial Compensation Commission to independently assess and recommend judicial salaries to be set by the state.

Two other requests are designed to improve court interpreter services, including a two-year pilot project in three counties that would establish a centralized interpreter station offering centralized scheduling and video and telephone conferencing interpreter services.

Gov. Scott Walker is expected to determine which court system requests to include in his 2015-17 budget proposal to be introduced in late January or early February 2015. 

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