EAU CLAIRE — Construction of a new Eau Claire County courtroom is nearly completed, and a new judge will be elected next year.
Eau Claire County currently has five judges. The last time the county received a new judge position was in 1994, when the fifth branch was created. Since then, caseloads have risen and created the need for another judge. A sixth circuit court branch is opening in August 2022 to help the county more quickly process cases going through the local judicial system.
According to Christopher Channing, district court administrator for Wisconsin’s 10th judicial administrative district, Eau Claire County was chosen by the director of state courts in fall 2020 to get a sixth circuit court judge “based upon its judicial need.”
Supervisor Jerry Wilkie, chairman of the county Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee, said another judge will make the judicial process more timely and efficient. That is particularly important now, since the caseload challenge was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It will speed up justice,” Wilkie said. “Even without the pandemic, we clearly needed another judge in Eau Claire County for a number of years, but with the pandemic, that has added to the backlog and made it challenging for the courts to operate efficiently.”
“The additional judge will spread the caseload among all of the judges,” he wrote in an email.
The additional courtroom will require more staff for it to operate. A new judicial assistant and sheriff’s bailiff will start work in 2022.
According to Susan Schaffer, Eau Claire County clerk of courts, there will also be two new employees in her office. One staffer will begin Aug. 1, 2022 and the other will start in January 2023.
The county will pay for some of those courtroom operating costs but also expects to receive about $61,000 more in state court grants in 2022, Schaffer wrote in an email.
Construction nearly done
The new courtroom will be located on the second floor of the county courthouse in the former County Board room.
Because of the increased case backlog, the county has planned for an additional judge and courtroom for several years. The county budgeted $930,000 to construct the courtroom. So far, it has spent $825,000, according to Matt Theisen, county facilities director.
Theisen said the courtroom is nearly finished but that a few items such as furniture and jury box chairs have not arrived because of supply chain challenges.
Theisen is “hoping it will be 100% complete by the end of December, but we are at the mercy of items being shipped on time,” he wrote in an email.
Matt Theisen added that Judge Jon Theisen, the county’s Branch 4 judge, is expected to move into the new courtroom when construction is done. The Branch 6 judge, who starts in August 2022, will move into an existing courtroom.
A new court branch means a new judge is needed, and citizens will vote for that judge in next spring’s election. Whoever wins the election will serve a six-year term. To be on the ballot for the April 5, 2022, election, candidates must submit application paperwork by Jan. 4, 2022.
Earlier this week, Eau Claire attorney Beverly Wickstrom announced her candidacy for the new judge position. She is the first person to announce an intention to run. Wickstrom has practiced law in Eau Claire for 38 years and is currently a partner at the law firm of Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs.
April’s ballot will also include an election for the county’s Branch 1 judge. That position is currently held by Judge John Manydeeds, who announced earlier this month.