Suits over Wisconsin recall/collective bargaining might lead to legislation altering trial and appellate courts’ jurisdictions

Are you a Wisconsin resident and want to sue the state? Existing law (Wis. Stats. 801.50(3)) provides that you travel to the capital, or more specifically Dane County, in many instances.

All actions in which the sole defendant is the state, any state board or commission, or any state officer, employee, or agent in an official capacity shall be venued in Dane County unless another venue is specifically authorized by law.

Under AB 156 and SB 117, future (and possibly past) plaintiffs would be able to “venue” the case in any county they wish.

All actions in which the sole defendant is the state, any state board or commission, or any state officer, employee, or agent in an official capacity shall be venued in the county designated by the plaintiff unless another venue is specifically authorized by law.

Nor are the bills limited to just the trial courts. Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals is divided into 4 districts, with Dane County in District IV. Under AB 156 and SB 117, an appeal from a county would have to be taken to a Court of Appeals district NOT containing the originating county. Thus, an appellant could appeal from a Dane County judgment to District I or II or III but NOT District IV. Moreover, the selection would be entirely at appellant’s discretion, allowing for a Milwaukee (District I) trial case to be heard on appeal 200 miles away in Wausau (District III) if the appellate wished it.

Why the sudden interest in shifting cases out of Dane County? Local media reports indicate it stems from the recent decision of a Dane County judge striking down the law banning most collective bargaining by public sector workers. Moreover, three senators up for recall elections have filed suit in Dane County, although they live elsewhere in the state. This may explain why 14 of the Senate’s 19 Republicans and 57 of the Assembly’s 60 Republicans are co-sponsors.

The bill was added at the last minute (June 1) to the agenda for a June 2 hearing before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce, and Government Operations.

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