Clerk of Circuit Courts
This department functions under the direction of the Clerk of Circuit Courts who is an elected official.
Jefferson County is served by four elected Circuit Court Judges; two full-time Circuit Court Commissioners assigned 1.5 FTE to Family Court and .5 FTE to general duties; and an elected Clerk of Court who is also appointed as the Register in Probate and Juvenile Clerk. The Circuit Court Judges and their court reporters are funded by the State. All other positions that assist the Courts are funded by county dollars, but for the portion returned in State Aid.
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION – CLERK OF COURTS
The Clerk of Circuit Court is elected to a four year term. The Circuit Court Judges are elected to 6 year terms. The Register in Probate/Juvenile Clerk and Circuit Court Commissioner positions are appointments made by the Circuit Court Judges. This budget encompasses the budgetary needs of the judicial offices, the Clerk of Court’s Office, Register in Probate/Juvenile Department and also the Family Court Commissioner division. Authorization for the Clerk of Court’s office is listed under Wis. Stats. Sec. 59.40 and Supreme Court Rule Chapter 72. These require that the of Clerk of Circuit Court maintain records of all documents filed with the courts, keep a record of court proceedings and collect various fees, fines and forfeitures ordered by the court or specified by statute. The Clerk of Circuit Court also must establish and promote procedures for reasonable access to court records as well as maintain the confidentiality of records as set forth by statute and court order.
The Clerk of Circuit Court, assisted by deputies, keeps the records and performs the duties for all civil, criminal, traffic, family and small claims matters in Circuit Court. Judgments, liens, and tax warrants are also filed in this office. The Clerk is responsible for the administration of juries. All fines and forfeitures are paid through the Clerk’s office.
Section 767.045 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides that in any action affecting the marriage when the court has reason for special concern as to the welfare of the minor children, and in all actions where the custody is contested, that the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem to represent such children as to custody, support and visitation. The Wisconsin State Statutes also provide that indigent counsel must be ordered for persons charged with certain crimes and/or involved in certain types of actions and deemed indigent. At present, the State Public Defender provides some of these services, but their services are limited. There is a need for counsel and guardian ad litem fees to provide services when the Public Defender is unable to do so due to case overload, or those sections not qualified by Sec. 977.08 that are not reimbursable. These funds are paid from the Court’s budget.
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION – FAMILY COURT COMMISSIONER
The Office of the Family Court Commissioner (FCC) is a 3.5 position sub-unit of the Clerk of Courts Office. One full-time Family Court Commissioner is assigned primarily to family court matters, and has policy, administrative, and personnel responsibilities as department head and director of Family Court Services (mediation and custody study services). An additional half-time Court Commissioner is also assigned to Family Court. Family Court Services (FCS) is part of the FCC department. It consists of two professional staff, providing child custody mediations and evaluative custody studies.
Family Court Commissioners (FCC) are provided for in §757.68 and 757.69 of the Wisconsin Statutes. They are appointed by the Chief Judge of the judicial district, upon nomination of the circuit court’s presiding judge, who is the immediate supervisor. In addition to Ch 767 duties, the full-time FCC is occasionally assigned to other duties authorized by sec. 757.69, such as intake (criminal) court and preliminary hearings and small claims. The second Commissioner is regularly assigned half-time to criminal (“intake”) court, small claims court and law clerk duties.
The FCC chief duties include presiding at temporary orders hearings and other pre-trial proceedings in divorce, paternity and other actions under Ch 767. The purpose of these hearings is to make temporary orders on such matters as child custody and support, spousal support, use of the marital residence and other property, payment of debts, etc. In pre-trial proceedings the FCC makes orders needed to narrow disputes and encourage early resolution and efficient administration of contested matters. The FCC also reviews and acts on domestic abuse and harassment temporary restraining orders.
The FCC also initially handles other post-judgment matters, reviewing pleadings to determine appropriate hearing assignment (judge or commissioner) and time needed for hearing, as well as to make procedural orders to make the matter ready for hearing, and to limit the time demands made upon court resources by inadequate, unnecessary or improperly filed pleadings. While many post-judgment matters are certified for hearing before the assigned judge, some are set for hearing before the FCC for reasons of urgency or court efficiency.
Under a “Cooperative Agreement” with the Child Support Agency (CSA) the FCC provides the CSA with “block-scheduling” two full days per week, for initial hearings on new cases and for proceedings to enforce or revise child support orders. This results in revenue through IV-D reimbursement at the rate of 66% of the salary (and all other components of compensation) for the commissioners based on the block-calendar time allocated to the CSA and FCC secretarial work on CSA cases.
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION – REGISTER IN PROBATE
The Register in Probate is an appointment made by the Circuit Court judges and approved by the Chief Judge of the Judicial District. Authorization and responsibilities for the Register in Probate are provided under Wis. Stats 851-880, as well as Chapters 48, 51, 54, 55 and 814. This includes authorization for the filing, recording and safekeeping of all probate matters, guardianships, protective placements under Chapter 55; mental, alcohol and drug civil commitments under Chapter 51 and adoptions and termination of parental rights proceedings under Chapter 48.
Department personnel answer questions and respond to inquiries from attorneys and the general public; review documents submitted for filing to ensure accuracy and compliance with the statutory requirements; enter data into the CCAP case management system; collect and calculate fees; monitor accounts for compliance with deadlines and legal requirements. The staff also appoint guardian ad litem/advocate counsel when required. The Register in Probate, if so appointed, also conducts hearings in probate proceedings for admissions of wills to probate, uncontested procedural matters and takes minutes in Probate Court.
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION – LAW LIBRARY
The cost of the law books, subscriptions and computer applications for periodical reports of courts and research materials for use by Circuit Judges, attorneys, court personnel and the general public. Almost all book series have been cancelled or replaced by computer applications.