Court system overview

Following is a brief overview of the Wisconsin Court System. For more details on each level of the court system follow the links below.

Municipal courts

  • 230 municipal courts
  • 232 municipal judges
  • Milwaukee has the largest municipal court and three full-time municipal judges. Madison has the only other full-time municipal court
  • More details

Circuit courts

  • Single level trial court since 1978
  • 253 circuit judges in 72 counties. Judges elected countywide to six-year terms in non-partisan elections
  • Milwaukee County is the largest jurisdiction with 47 judges
  • 26 counties have one judge each; smaller counties share a judge
  • More details

Court of Appeals

  • Created in 1978 and originally designed to handle 1,200 cases per year
  • Mostly mandatory jurisdiction, meaning that litigants have the right to appeal their cases from the circuit court to the Court of Appeals
  • 16 judges in four districts. Judges elected district wide to six-year terms
  • More details

Supreme Court

  • Seven justices elected statewide to 10-year terms
  • Court of last resort
  • Court reviews approximately 1,000 petitions per year and accepts approximately 100
  • More details

Administrative/management structure

The administrative structure of the court system is detailed in Article VII, section 4(3) of the Wisconsin Constitution, Statute (758.19) and Supreme Court Rule (SCR) Chapter 70 Adobe PDF. The chief justice is the administrative head of the judicial system, exercising authority according to procedures adopted by the Supreme Court. The structure is analogous to a corporation, with the chief justice as the chair of the board, the other justices as the board of directors, and the director of state courts as the chief operating officer.

For administrative purposes, the circuit courts are divided into nine judicial administrative districts. The districts range in size from one county to 15 counties. The judicial business in each district is supervised by a chief judge selected by the Supreme Court to serve a two-year term. A chief judge can serve up to three two-year terms if the court continues to appoint him or her. Each district also has a district court administrator who is a permanent employee of the Director of State Courts Office who in turn is assisted by a court management assistant. The district court administrators' offices are generally located in the largest city in the respective district.

State court system expenditures

The judicial branch is committed to transparency and accountability in its stewardship of public funds. This section contains financial reports and information for the Wisconsin court system on how the court system is funded and how those funds are expended.

Select graphic to open/download a PDF PDF version.

How a case moves through the courts