The Third Branch
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan B. Colás answered criticism against the judiciary in a June 9 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The article, titled "Independent judges protect 'we the people'" was a response to criticism of a federal court's decision to overturn the state's same-sex marriage ban.
"When did 'we the people' become 'I, the judge'?" Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling is quoted as saying, criticizing U. S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb's ruling.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judges Carl Ashley and Mary Triggiano were among judges of the 8th Annual Italian Idol Karaoke Contest at the 2014 Festa Italiana. Left to right: Atty. Kathy Bach, Jackie Pinkus, Ashley, Atty. Susan Hansen and Triggiano. Judge Triggiano's daughter, Natalie was on hand to help distribute prizes to the top three contestants.
"It is fair and healthy to criticize and debate a judge's decision on its merits: its reasoning, legal analysis, grasp of the evidence and so on," Colás writes. "But attacking judges for not simply upholding any law a majority has adopted undermines our system of government and risks the dangers from which 'we the people' were protecting ourselves when we adopted the Constitution."
Colás cites the important role the independent judiciary plays in the checks and balances system, its dedication to upholding the Constitution, and its responsibility to ensure fairness to all, despite the influence of popular opinion. He uses several examples in his article of religious, cultural and racial minorities who have sought the courts' assistance in maintaining their rights.
"The short answer to Applings' question is that 'we the people' wanted independent judges who could counterbalance the popular will," Colás writes.
In early August, news outlets throughout the state carried articles about Wisconsin's treatment courts produced by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
"Wisconsin Drug Courts Grow but Racial Disparities Persist," indicated the number of drug courts in Wisconsin expanded from five to 29 during the last decade, and the number of treatment courts of all types doubled.
Drug treatment courts may offer participants "the chance to reduce or avoid criminal convictions in exchange for completing treatment and other programming…"
However, the center also reported that the overwhelming number of participants in drug treatment courts to date have been white. In Dane County during 2012, for example, "about one-third of those arrested for drug crimes were black. But African-Americans made up just 10 percent of those participating in the county's drug court that year."
The report did not draw a conclusion as to why the disparity exists.
The benefits of effective drug treatment courts can be many, including reduced jail populations and recidivism rates. The center quoted one study that showed participants in drug treatment courts were "50 percent less likely to commit new crimes; and if they did commit a crime it was for a lesser offense with an average of 82 fewer days spent in jail." Another study quoted found that in seven alternative treatment programs funded by the state, 2,061 offenders over four years avoided more than 135,000 days of incarceration.
Judge Ellen R. Brostrom
Judge Juan B. Colás
Judge Sarah B. O'Brien
The coverage quoted several judges, including Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Ellen R. Brostrom.
"One of the primary things you need to beat an addiction is hope. They (offenders) are not just sober. They're transformed," Brostrom said.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan B. Colás, who presides over that county's drug treatment court, told the center that the program was revised in January in an effort to improve access and effectiveness for all participants.
"The purpose was to broaden access and give the most effective intervention" Colás told the center.Former Dane County Circuit Court Judge Sarah B. O'Brien was also included in the center's coverage, which was accompanied by photos from drug treatment courts in Dane and Racine counties.
Sex trafficking has been the focus of an informal committee in Milwaukee County comprised of prosecutors, public defenders and treatment providers, according to the Wisconsin Law Journal. The meetings have sprung up in response to the increase in cases related to child sex trafficking in the county.
"Everybody's sort of figuring out that the worst thing we can do is put these kids in detention, because we're basically locking up victims," Assistant Public Defender Diane Rondini-Harness, who is a member of the committee, is quoted as saying.
The meetings have attracted the attention of Milwaukee County Circuit Court judges, who are also concerned about the rate of increase.
Judge Mary Triggiano
Judge Michael J. Dwyer
Judge Rebecca G. Bradley
"We see it probably now more than ever," Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Mary Triggiano, who is the presiding judge of the Children's Court, told the Law Journal.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court judges Michael J. Dwyer and Rebecca G. Bradley have expressed interest in being part of the committee, which has discussed the possibility of a "girls court" in Milwaukee.
Several states have established girls courts to address the child sex traffic problem, according to another article in the Law Journal. Michigan, Hawaii, and California have established courts similar to treatment courts that target girls in the judicial system in an effort to steer them away from the sex trade.
Milwaukee County currently uses the Juvenile Cognitive Intervention Program (JCIP), a national model that focuses on behavior modification in juvenile offenders. But this model does not take into consideration trauma and relationships, issues common with girls who become sex trafficking victims.
"It's fair to say girls think differently than boys," Dwyer told the Law Journal. "The JCIP, the cornerstone treatment for boys, doesn't really work with girls."
If a girls court is created in Milwaukee, it will take some time, as the idea is still in the early discussion stage, according to the article. Implement such a program would involve judges to undergo training in dealing with troubled female juvenile offenders.
La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez, left, made an appearance recently on Wisconsin Public Radio, along with La Crosse County Justice Support Services Supervisor Becky Spanjers and La Crosse County Justice Sanctions Director Jane Klekamp. Photo credit: Maureen McCollum, WPR
La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Newsmakers" on July 24. Host Maureen McCollum spoke with Gonzales, La Crosse County Justice Sanctions Director Jane Klekamp, and La Crosse County Justice Support Services Supervisor Becky Spanjers in a roundtable interview to discuss women in the La Crosse County criminal justice system. The discussion addressed how women are treated differently than men in the criminal justice system, and what steps the county is taking to work with and help rehabilitate women.
Sheboygan County Clerk of Court Nan Todd knew there must be a better way to deal with the increasing number of foreclosures coming into her office, reports the Sheboygan Press.
"I began to bring it up with some of the judges, and started hearing horror stories from some of them," she told the paper. One judge told her about a man who came into court ready to pay his debt, but no one from the bank could be found to accept it.
"There was so much mass confusion in the financial industry that people were jumping ship and if your look nationally, the number of foreclosures filed and all the problems going on, it's kind of understandable that the peons didn't really know what to do either," Todd told went on to say.
So in 2010, she began looking at what other counties were doing to address the problem. The next year she launched the Sheboygan Foreclosure Mediation Program. The program brings in retired bankers to work with the banks, their attorneys and the homeowners to find a way to resolve the problem and hopefully let the homeowners keep their houses.
Since it began, the program has helped 29 of the 100 applicants keep their homes. Todd, who administrates the program from her office, has announced she will not be running for reelection, leaving the program's organizers wondering how to continue the successful program without her.
"For the homeowner to understand the lay of the land and what's going to happen to the house, what the bank's going to do and the timeline they have in front of them – by educating the individual, we can take away some of that uncertainty or the fear of the unknown," Consumer Credit Counseling's Matt Kautzer, who works as a housing counselor with program participants, told the paper.
"History made with Justice Center groundbreaking" was the headline of a May 28 article in The Tomah Journal.
"This is probably the most important building built in the county since 1898," Monroe County Circuit Court Judge J. David Rice told the paper of the new Justice Center.
Representatives of Monroe County and the Monroe County Circuit Court gathered in Sparta on May 28, 2014 to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for a new $33 million, 106,000-square-foot justice center that will include a new jail and court facilities. Photo credit: Jordan Vian, Tomah Journal
The Monroe County Courthouse was built in 1896, but plans to update the jail have been considered since the 1990's, the article reports. The project has been discussed by various boards, and issues such as location and cost needed to be resolved before the plan could come to fruition.
"I don't think there has ever been a project that has been so thoroughly vetted," Rice is quoted as saying. "The public finally said, 'Let's get this done.'"
The new building is expected to cost $33 million and be completed in 2016. It is expected to last at least 50 years, and will also be able to accommodate any future expansions needed.
The State Bar of Wisconsin announced on Aug. 8 that Executive Director George Brown became president of the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE), effective July 1.
State Bar President Robert R. Gagan said executives throughout the country will benefit from George's visionary leadership and knowledge of association management.
Brown has been an active member of NABE since 1987 and served on its board of directors since 2009. He previously served as the association's president-elect and vice president, among other positions. He has been executive director of the State Bar since 2000, having served previously as public affairs director.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley met with kids at the Janesville Boys and Girls Club as part of the iCivics program. As part of the activities, Bradley swore the teens in as law clerks and then played with them Supreme Decision, an online iCivics game that promotes understanding of the courts and legal system. Bradley then presented the club with a certificate from the iCivics program indicating that the program could now be used to fulfill their power hour requirement, after they have completed their school assigned homework.
The Second Judicial District Veterans Court, serving Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties, celebrated its first graduation on June 17 at the Racine County Courthouse. Judge Michael Piontek gives graduate Jon Griska, a U.S. Army veteran, a hug as conferring Judge Gerald Ptacek looks on. The city of Racine Veterans Honor Guards and members of the U.S. Navy Band – Great Lakes also were on hand. Photo credit: Scott Anderson, The Racine Journal Times
Judge Brian Blanchard, District IV Court of Appeals, helps guide discussion of issues before the criminal procedures committee of the Wisconsin Judicial Council held at the state Capitol during a meeting in August. The committee is reviewing possible changes to the state's criminal code, which was last revised in 1969. Blanchard heads the committee, consisting of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, among others interested in the processing of criminal cases.