Friday, October 19, 2018

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Retiring judge pleads for state’s help

Study finds Eau Claire County criminal cases grew 13 percent

  • Gabler-William-093014


    Contributed photo

  • Schumacher-Michael-050217


    Contributed photo

Eau Claire County leaders voiced a need for an additional judicial seat and budgeted to make a new courtroom but haven’t yet seen a proposal in the state Legislature to create and fund new judgeships in Wisconsin.

On Friday morning at a gathering of about 90 Eau Claire area business and community leaders, retiring Judge William Gabler explained the county’s judge shortage.

“We need the help of the executive branch and legislative branch of the state government to do our jobs for you,” Gabler said at the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues meeting at the Clarion Hotel Campus Area, 2703 Craig Road.

The county currently has five circuit court judges and a court commissioner, but a caseload study found that an additional two judges are warranted here.

That study, which came out before the end of 2017, showed a 13 percent increase in the number of felonies and misdemeanor cases filed in the county. 

According to online court records, there were 3,402 of those criminal cases filed last year, compared with 3,013 in 2016. And those statistics don’t count the many traffic, civil, small claims, family and juvenile cases that also go through the local courts.

“We do need another judge in Eau Claire County,” Gabler said.

The County Board unanimously approved a resolution in August seeking a new judge from the state, which pays for judges and court reporters. The county provides the courtroom and support staff.

The county budgeted $410,000 in design and remodeling costs to turn the former County Board room on the second floor of the courthouse into a new courtroom. The County Board’s meeting room moved to the first floor when the courthouse was remodeled several years ago.

Additional legal clerks and a bailiff to support the judge would cost $186,000 to $230,000 annually, which could start in the 2019 budget.

The earliest the county could get a new judge is August 2019, based on timing of budgets, time to build a courtroom and local election dates for judges. If approved, it would be the county’s first new judicial seat since 1994.

Gabler and fellow Judge Michael Schumacher both noted that one of the factors in the increasing caseloads has been methamphetamine use in the community.

“It’s just a scourge in the community,” Schumacher said. “It’s a horrible problem we’re trying to deal with.”

The highly addictive drug leads to crimes such as theft and burglary when users seek more money to pay for their habit, Schumacher said. People taking the drug also are known to have unpredictable and sometimes violent behavior. Parents addicted to the drug end up with child welfare issues as well.

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