Wisconsin Supreme Court justice wants big raise despite declining productivity

Gretchen Schuldt, Wisconsin Justice Initiative Inc.

While Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack pushes for judicial pay raises of more than $20,000 annually, the number of decisions issued by judges on the state’s two appellate levels has fallen dramatically, statistics show.

Roggensack’s big boost request fell flat with Gov. Scott Walker. She wanted the state to spend $6.4 million per year on judicial pay increases, but Walker is proposing only $334,000 for 2018–2019 pay raises.
Walker also is, however, recommending that the director of state courts figure out a judicial pay plan, which would be submitted to the Joint Committee on Employment Relations for approval. The director of state courts works for Roggensack’s Supreme Court.
Roggensack’s plan would have taxpayers footing bigger bills for judges — at least on the two appellate levels — who issue far fewer decisions than they used to.
Marquette University Professor Alan Ball examined the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s declining productivity on his excellent SCOWstats blog. He found the number of opinions issued declined from 83 in 1990–91 to 43 in 2015, a 48 percent decrease.

“Yet the average period between oral argument and the filing of a decision was roughly a month and a half shorter in 1990–91 than in 2015–16 (91 days and 136 days, respectively,)” Ball wrote.
The state’s own statistics show a big drop in Court of Appeals productivity as well.  It closed 3,132 cases in 2006 but just 2,421 cases in 2016. a decline of almost 23 percent.
Case filings dropped as well. There were 3,078 cases filed with the Court of Appeals in 2006; in 2016, there were 2,426 filed, a 22 percent drop.

Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of  Wisconsin Justice Initiative Inc. This piece originally appeared on the Wisconsin Justice Initiative blog.