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Evers signs circuit court bill, could help Sawyer CO. drug case overload

MADISON, WI (WKOW) -- Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill Thursday in Wausau creating a dozen new branches of the state's circuit court system, which state lawmakers say could help alleviate a major drug case backlog in Sawyer County.

The governor enacted the measure at the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District Three office.

"Our justice system has been doing more with less for far too long, and today we are taking another step in ensuring that our justice system is operating efficiently and best serving our communities," Evers said.

The governor hailed the bipartisan effort in the Legislature to pass the act.

The new branches will begin operation Aug. 1, split evenly between 2021, 2022 and 2023.

The new branches represent the first expansion of the circuit court system since 2010, according to the governor's office.

The law allows the director of state courts to decide which counties get the new branches.

Representative James Edming (R-Glen Flora) helped author the bill.

“The drug epidemic that has hit Wisconsin hard has driven caseloads up in courthouses around the state,” Edming said. “In some counties, including Sawyer and Marathon, which I represent, the caseload has reached the point where an additional judge is needed. This new law will help relieve some of the stress on the judicial system and allow the court system to more quickly and effectively meet the needs of the people it serves.”

An example of the high caseloads can be found in Sawyer County, Edming said. In 2018, Sawyer County had 402 felony complaints filed in a one-judge county. In comparison, nearby Barron County had 452 felony complaints filed that were split amongst that county’s three judges.

“A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to sit on the bench for the day with Sawyer County Judge John Yackel and it became clear to me that day that he cannot do it alone as the only judge in Sawyer County,” Edming said. “As I began to look into this issue, I learned that Sawyer County was not the only place in the state facing high caseloads, and other counties, including Marathon, were in the same boat. While this new law does not guarantee new judges to any specific counties, it does provide counties, like Sawyer and Marathon, with the opportunity to submit their plans to the Director of State Courts for consideration.”

Briggs LeSavage

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