By Shereen Siewert
Marathon County could see a sixth judge added to the current five-judge circuit court, the result of state legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Tony Evers.
The bill, authored by Republican State Senator Jerry Petrowski (Marathon) adds 12 additional circuit court branches. State Representative Ron Tusler (R-Harrison) co-authored the bill, now called Act 184.
Interim Marathon County Administrator Lance Leonhard said the bill doesn’t specify which county will receive additional judges, but Marathon County ranks near the top in the state relative to judicial need. In 2019 alone, 16,202 cases were opened in Marathon County Circuit Court, according to Wisconsin Circuit Court caseload summaries.
“I will need to follow up with the Chief Judge on next steps, but I would anticipate that we will likely hear from the Director of State courts in the near future relative to the assignment of a sixth circuit court judgeship,” Leonhard told Wausau Pilot & Review.
The Marathon County Board has already expressed its support for the sixth judge via a resolution, Leonhard said.
In a news release, Petrowski cited a “growing need for additional capacity in our judicial system” as the motivation behind the legislation. Despite an increase in demand a new court has not been added in Wisconsin in 13 years. When justice isn’t swift, taxpayers face an additional burden housing the accused who are waiting for trial for extended periods.
“Swift justice isn’t a republican issue or a democratic issue, it’s a constitutional issue,” Petrowski said. “Part of the foundation of our country – in fact, the Sixth Amendment to our Constitution – requires that the accused receive a speedy trial. But with the back up in our court system, sometimes the accused is sitting for months awaiting trial. These delays not only deny justice to both victims and the accused, but also add enormous costs to the counties because of that increased wait time.”
The legislation calls for the Director of State Courts to create an additional branch in a county if two conditions exist. The county board must pass a resolution supporting the branch and the county must have appropriate facilities to house the new court by May 31 of the year in which the new branch is created.
The law allows for four new branches for three consecutive years beginning in 2021.
Marathon County plans to modify use of its existing courtrooms and conduct renovations within its courthouse to accommodate an additional circuit court branch.
Petrowski said Marathon County Circuit Judges Mike Moran and Greg Huber were instrumental in passing the bill, which was signed into law this week in Wausau.
if both a) the county board passes a resolution in support and b) the county will have appropriate facilities to house the new court ready by May 31st of the year in which the new branch is to be created. This new law allows for four new branches in 2021, four new branches in 2022, and four new branches in 2023.