Legislators, municipal judges and court clerks, attorneys, and court agency officials celebrated this week as Governor Jim Doyle signed into law SB 383 – the Municipal Court Reform & Restructuring Act. Senator Lena C. Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Representative Donna Seidel (D-Wausau), the bill’s authors, applauded the action of the Governor. The bill makes sweeping changes to chapters 755 and 800 of the statutes that govern municipal courts.
“Every citizen expects and demands their right to an independent and fair judicial system, including in municipal court actions,” Taylor noted. “With the approval of SB 383, the state has taken serious steps to ensure that fairness and balance is provided to the municipal court system, which is often the first and only court of law many people ever encounter. This bill is a historical piece of legislation for the judiciary to protect their independence, promote justice to the public, and affirm the authority of the Supreme Court as the Constitution dictates.”
SB 383 makes over 44 distinct and clear changes to municipal court operation ranging from budget procedures for the court, to supervisory authority of court personnel, to simple requirements, like a black robe to be worn by judges, to the right to an appeal. The bill was developed over the last 7 years by the Wisconsin Municipal Judges Association and Court Clerks Association to solve problems and improve the courts they work in. In 2008, the omnibus bill was the subject of special hearing in the Senate, led by Senator Taylor. Following these hearings, the Wisconsin Judicial Council, took on a serious review of the bill, making recommendations on court practice and procedure. The Committee on Chief Judges of the Judicial Administrative Districts also supported and offered recommendations on the bill.
“Without the hard work of the municipal court personnel and court agencies around the state, this bill would never have had the backing and support it needed,” commented Seidel. “The willingness of the judges to meet and work out details with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities paved the way to bi-partisan voice votes on major court reform in both houses. Those on the front lines—judges, clerks, and practitioners, should be applauded for their hard work on the bill. This is a great example of how the legislative process is supposed to work.”
The changes to municipal courts go into effect on January 1, 2011. Those interested in a fuller description of the bill can go to www.senatortaylor.com and click on “Track Legislation”.