Walker taking longer to fill judicial vacancies than predecessor

Walker taking longer to fill judicial vacancies than predecessor

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It has taken Gov. Scott Walker's office more than four months on average to replace retiring circuit court judges, leaving courts to bring in reserve judges to hear some cases while others are put off entirely until the selection process is finished.

"It's a little like a school system with nothing but substitute teachers, and not the same substitute every day," said William Foust, chief judge for the court system's Fifth Administrative District, which includes Dane County. "Cases that need a lot of attention have to sit and wait for the arrival of the real judge."

Courts around Wisconsin have waited an average of 124 days from the time the governor's office solicited applications for open judicial seats until a successor was announced. Walker has appointed eight circuit court judges.

He appointed two other judges after they were elected to vacant posts last spring, rather than wait until August to be sworn in.

It took Walker 143 days to appoint a judge to a vacant post in Eau Claire County but 108 days to name judges in Calumet and Wood counties.

One state appeals court seat, in eastern Wisconsin's District II, has been awaiting an appointee since a vacancy was announced on May 11, 165 days ago.

From 2004 to 2009, former Gov. Jim Doyle took an average of about 99 days to appoint each of eight judges in Dane County, from the time their predecessors announced their retirements until Doyle named replacements. The time between the retirement announcement and opening applications varies but generally is at least a week.

"There are a number of steps that judicial applicants must go through that we are not in control of, such as background checks, so we always hesitate to give a firm date," spokesman Cullen Werwie said.

Werwie did not say why Walker has taken longer to finish the process than Doyle.

Dane County still is waiting for a successor to retired Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser, 114 days after applications for his job were solicited by Walker's office on July 1. Finalists for the post were named more than a month ago. Walker's office said it has no timeline for the appointment.

Walker's office received five applications for a second vacant Dane County judicial post that opened when Circuit Judge Patrick Fiedler retired last month. The applications were due Oct. 14. Werwie said the governor may also consider those who earlier applied for Moeser's job.

The applicants are state Assistant Attorney General Frank Remington, who also is the municipal judge in Shorewood Hills; Sun Prairie attorney Charles Schutze; Assistant Public Defender David Klauser; Assistant Attorney General David Hart; and Scott Kowalski, former chief sales and marketing officer at Physicians Plus insurance.

But until the two judicial vacancies are filled, Dane County continues to use reserve judges, who generally are retired, to supplement the county's remaining 15 judges, Foust said.

Through August, 24½ days of reserve judge time was needed, compared with four days for the same period last year. Figures for September were not yet available.

"Everybody's been trying to cut down on the use of reserve judges, but you just don't have that much choice when branches go vacant," Foust said.

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