- Associated Press - Friday, August 25, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided to quit funding a council that helps justices revise legal procedures across the state after the council’s attorney got a raise of more than $22,000.

The 21-member council includes judges, legislators and attorneys. The group studies court practices and make recommendations to the Supreme Court on how to improve the system. The Supreme Court provides the council with $111,400 each year, with $59,600 going to pay the council’s only employee, attorney April Southwick.

Council minutes indicate the panel’s four-person executive committee voted via teleconference in June to give Southwick the title of executive director and raise her salary from $59,600 to $82,326. The committee decided that salary level was consummate with other similar positions in the judicial branch.

The Supreme Court notified the DOA by letter on Aug. 17 that the justices were concerned about the raise and had decided to stop funding the council by the time Gov. Scott Walker signs the 2017-19 state budget. The letter called the size of the raise “extraordinary” and said justices were concerned about the process used to award it.

Director of State Courts Randy Koshnick sent an email to the state Department of Administration on Aug. 1 alleging that under state law the executive committee couldn’t authorize the raise. He pointed out that state law requires a quorum of at least 11 council members to take action.

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson, who make up the court’s liberal-leaning minority, dissented. Bradley wrote that the court didn’t have a thorough discussion about defunding the council and called the decision “ill-advised.” She said the council has served the court well for more than 60 years, helping craft evidence rules, civil and criminal procedures and appellate practices.

Judicial Council Chairman Tom Bertz, who sits on the executive committee, didn’t reply to a voicemail Friday.

Southwick said in an email to The Associated Press that the raise was meant to bring her salary up to the same level as “a male judicial branch employee in a similar position” and declined further comment. She didn’t reply to follow-up emails asking who the male employee is and why she didn’t advise the executive committee that a council quorum had to approve the raise.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed eliminating the council in the state budget, saying the Supreme Court has the authority to create an advisory group on its own if it so chooses. The Legislature’s budget-writing committee removed that language from the spending plan in May after the court opposed it.

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack sent a letter to the committee’s co-chair, Sen. Alberta Darling, the same day the court sent the order to DOA telling her that the raise was out of line and the justices have withdrawn support for the council. Darling aide Bob Delaporte said she’s considering revisiting Walker’s proposal to eliminate the council in light of Roggensack’s letter.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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