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How Does the Wisconsin Circuit Court Work?

The Wisconsin Circuit Court is the state’s trial court with original jurisdiction. Typically, most criminal and civil cases in the state begin here, and the circuit court may handle issues beyond the limited jurisdiction of the lower municipal courts. Each of the 72 counties in the state of Wisconsin has one or more circuit courts attached to it. While smaller circuit courts handle all types of cases, larger circuit courts are divided into divisions, where each judge handles specific types of cases. Judges are reassigned among these divisions based on judicial rotation every two to four years.

  • Criminal Division: This division of the Circuit Court hears criminal cases involving offenses specified in the Wisconsin Criminal Code. Larger circuit courts may have divisions for misdemeanors, felonies, and criminal traffic violations.
  • Civil Division: The civil division is responsible for resolving cases involving monetary damages, such as small claims, personal torts, business, and contractual disputes. Civil litigations in Wisconsin follow the Civil Procedure.
  • Family Division: The family division of the Circuit Court resolves disputes and litigations involving families and domestic partnerships. Typical cases include divorce, annulment, domestic violence, adoption, and restraining orders.
  • Juvenile Division: The juvenile division handles matters involving minors, including termination of parental rights, guardianship, adoption, juvenile delinquency, and juvenile ordinance violations. This division handles cases based on the Juvenile Justice Code.

These circuit courts fall within ten judicial districts; each judicial district is lead by a Chief Judge selected by the Supreme Court. A deputy chief judge and other judicial staff, including the circuit court clerk, a district court administrator, and a court management assistant, assist the chief judge. Likewise, the chief judge appoints a presiding judge to be the administrative head of a circuit court with a panel of 3 or more judges.

Cases in circuit courts begin when a litigant files a suit with the Clerk of Courts. In civil lawsuits, the plaintiff, represented by an attorney, seeks the court’s enforcement of an obligation or court-ordered remedy for a wrong. On the other hand, criminal cases are between the state and the offender. Criminal suits are filed by the government and not the victim because the defendant has violated the state’s penal code. If the victim seeks damages against the offender, they must initiate a civil suit.

Compared to other parts of the judiciary, Wisconsin circuit courts have the highest workload in the state. According to statistical reports by the judiciary, Wisconsin circuit courts process an average of 800,000 cases annually.

Generally, the timeline of a case from filing to disposition depends on its complexity and county of jurisdiction. For example, in Crawford County, a misdemeanor case takes up to two months, while the disposition of tort or personal injury can take up to twelve months. Most cases go through several stages before they can proceed to trial.

Generally, the litigants may have to go through a court-mandated mediation or arrive at a plea bargain. A trial is the last resort when mediation fails, and litigants fail to arrive at a plea bargain. For cases that proceed to trial, the court will have to schedule a date for preliminary hearings and oral arguments. Also, jury deliberations may take hours to weeks, depending on the complexity of the case. Thus, an issue may be resolved within weeks or go on for months.

When a party is dissatisfied with the Circuit Court ruling, they may appeal the verdict in the Court of Appeals. Appealing a verdict involves obtaining leave to appeal from the circuit court. The court will consider the merits of the petition under criteria established in Section 808.03(2) of the state’s statutes.

At present, there are 249 circuit court judges in Wisconsin. A nonpartisan election determines circuit court judges. A circuit court judge will serve an initial term of six years is eligible for reelection for unlimited terms before retiring at age 70. Per Article VI, Section VI, of the Wisconsin Constitution, judgeship candidates must be members of the state bar for at least five years, cannot hold any other elective office, and must follow the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct. If a judge is removed, incapacitated, or dies in office, the governor may appoint an interim judge with senate confirmation. The acting judge will perform the office’s duties until the term is over, and the court will conduct another nonpartisan election.

Article VII, Section 11, of the state’s constitution makes provisions for the removal of judges from office, such as:

  • Disciplinary proceedings: Judges who violate the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct may be removed based on the Wisconsin judicial commission’s review.
  • Impeachment: This requires a majority vote of the assembly and conviction by a two-thirds vote of the senate.
  • Legislature Address: Judges may face removal by the address of both houses of the legislature with the concurrence of two-thirds of each house’s members.
  • Recall election: Following the submission of the signatures of 25 percent of eligible voters in a district, Court of Appeals judges are subject to recall election.

To access circuit court records, interested individuals must contact the official custodian of the court record. The custodian is typically the Clerk of Court office in the county where the case was filed. The Wisconsin Open Records Law directs the Clerk to make the record available for public perusal unless a court order or statute has sealed such a document. In this case, the individual must present a court order granting access to that specific record. Regardless, the requester must provide the necessary information to facilitate the search and cover the costs of searching, reproducing, and certifying physical copies of requested records. Also, Wisconsin Circuit Courts grant online public access to court records via a centralized case management system.

Interested individuals may consult a detailed directory of circuit courts in the state. Nevertheless, this compact list of Circuit Courts’ location in Wisconsin will help access court information, site, and contact information:

Adams County Circuit Court

402 Main Street, PO Box 200

Friendship, WI 53934–0200

Ashland County Circuit Court

201 Main Street West

Ashland, WI 54806–1652

Barron County Circuit Court

1420 State Highway 25 North

Barron, WI 54812–3006

Bayfield County Circuit Court

117 East 5th Street, PO Box 536

Washburn, WI 54891–0536

Brown County Circuit Court

100 South Jefferson Street, PO Box 23600

Green Bay, WI 54305–3600

Fax: (920) 448–4133

Buffalo County Circuit Court

407 South 2nd Street

Alma, WI 54610–9753

Burnett County Circuit Court

7410 Close Road K #115

Siren, WI 54872–9043

Calumet County Circuit Court

206 Court Street,

Chilton, WI 53014–1198

Chippewa County Circuit Court

711 North Bridge Street

Chippewa Falls, WI 54729–1876

Clark County Circuit Court

517 Court Street

Neillsville, WI 54456–1904

Columbia County Circuit Court

400 DeWitt Street, PO Box 587

Portage, WI 53901–0587

Crawford County Circuit Court

220 North Beaumont Road

Prairie du Chien, WI 53821–1405

Dane County Circuit Court

215 South Hamilton Street

Madison, WI 53703

Dodge County Circuit Court

210 West Center Street

Juneau, WI 53039–1091

Door County Circuit Court

1209 South Duluth Avenue

Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

Douglas County Circuit Court

1313 Belknap Street

Superior, WI 54880–2769

Dunn County Circuit Court

615 Stokke Parkway, Suite 1300

Menomonie, WI 54751

Eau Claire County Circuit Court

721 Oxford Avenue

Eau Claire, WI 54703–5481

Florence County Circuit Court

501 Lake Avenue, PO Box 410

Florence, WI 54121–0410

Fond Du Lac County Circuit Court

160 South Macy Street

Fond du Lac, WI 54935–4241

Forest County Circuit Court

200 East Madison Street

Crandon, WI 54520–1414

Grant County Circuit Court

130 West Maple Street

Lancaster, WI 53813

Green County Circuit Court

2841 6th Street

Monroe, WI 53566

Green Lake County Circuit Court

571 County Road A

Green Lake, WI 54941–3188

Iowa County Circuit Court

222 North Iowa Street

Dodgeville, WI 53533–1548

Iron County Circuit Court

300 Taconite Street

Hurley, WI 54534–1546

Jackson County Circuit Court

307 Main Street

Black River Falls, WI 54615–0609

Jefferson County Circuit Court

311 South Center Avenue

Jefferson, WI 53549

Juneau County Circuit Court

200 Oak Street

Mauston, WI 53948

Kenosha County Circuit Court

912 56th Street

Kenosha, WI 53140–3736

Kewaunee County Circuit Court

613 Dodge Street

Kewaunee, WI 54216–1398

La Crosse County Circuit Court

333 Vine Street

La Crosse, WI 54601–3296

Lafayette County Circuit Court

626 Main Street,

Darlington, WI 53530–1396

Langlade County Circuit Court

800 Clermont Street

Antigo, WI 54409–1985

Lincoln County Circuit Court

1110 East Main Street

Merrill, WI 54452–2579

Manitowoc County Circuit Court

1010 South 8th Street, PO Box 2000

Manitowoc, WI 54221–2000

Marathon County Circuit Court

500 Forest Street

Wausau, WI 54403–5568

Marinette County Circuit Court

1926 Hall Avenue

Marinette, WI 54143–1717

Marquette County Circuit Court

77 West Park Street, PO Box 749

Montello, WI 53949–0749

Menominee County Circuit Court

West 3269 Courthouse Lane, P. O. Box 279

Keshena, WI 54135–0279

Milwaukee County Circuit Court

901 North 9th Street

Milwaukee, WI 53233–1425

Monroe County Circuit Court

112 South Court Street

Sparta, WI 54656–1765

Oconto County Circuit Court

301 Washington Street

Oconto, WI 54153–1621

Oneida County Circuit Court

1 South Oneida Avenue, PO Box 400

Rhinelander, WI 54501–0400

Outagamie County Circuit Court

320 South Walnut Street

Appleton, WI 54911–5918

Ozaukee County Circuit Court

1201 South Spring Street, PO Box 994

Port Washington, WI 53074–0994

Pepin County Circuit Court

740 7th Avenue West, PO Box 39

Durand, WI 54736–0039

Pierce County Circuit Court

414 West Main Street

Ellsworth, WI 54011

Polk County Circuit Court

1005 West Main Street

Balsam Lake, WI 54810

Portage County Circuit Court

1516 Church Street

Stevens Point, WI 54481–3598

Price County Circuit Court

126 Cherry Street

Phillips, WI 54555–1249

Racine County Circuit Court

730 Wisconsin Avenue

Racine, WI 53403–1238

Richland County Circuit Court

181 West Seminary Street, PO Box 655

Richland Center, WI 53581–0655

Rock County Circuit Court

51 South Main Street - 5th Floor

Janesville, WI 53545–3978

Rusk County Circuit Court

311 Miner Avenue East

Ladysmith, WI 54848–1862

Sauk County Circuit Court

515 Oak Street,

Baraboo, WI 53913–2496

Sawyer County Circuit Court

10610 Main Suite 244

Hayward, WI 54843–6586

St. Croix County Circuit Court

1101 Carmichael Road

Hudson, WI 54016–7710

Taylor County Circuit Court

224 South Second Street

Medford, WI 54451–1899

Trempealeau County Circuit Court

36245 Main Street, PO Box 67

Whitehall, WI 54773–0067

Vernon County Circuit Court

400 Courthouse Square, Suite 115

Viroqua, WI 54665–1553

Vilas County Circuit Court

330 Court Street

Eagle River, WI 54521

Walworth County Circuit Court

1800 County Road NN, PO Box 1001

Elkhorn, WI 53121–1001

Washburn County Circuit Court

10 Fourth Avenue, PO Box 339

Shell Lake, WI 54871–0339

Washington County Circuit Court

432 East Washington Street, PO Box 1986

West Bend, WI 53095–1986

Waukesha County Circuit Court

515 West Moreland Boulevard

Waukesha, WI 53188–2428

Waupaca County Circuit Court

811 Harding Street

Waupaca, WI 54981–2087

Waushara County Circuit Court

209 South Saint Marie Street, PO Box 508

Wautoma, WI 54982–0508

Winnebago County Circuit Court

415 Jackson Street, PO Box 2808

Oshkosh, WI 54903–2808

Wood County Circuit Court

400 Market Street, PO Box 8095

Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54495–8095

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