Wisconsin Court Records
How do Wisconsin Municipal Courts Work?
The Municipal Courts in Wisconsin are courts of limited jurisdiction that can only hear cases that involve the violation of municipality rules. Unlike the Circuit Court and higher courts in the judicial system, the municipal court is not a record court. Records of proceedings are not generated or maintained for the possibility of appeal.
Municipal courts operate under statutes governing the creation in Wisconsin and follow procedures outlined in the Municipal Court Procedure. The typical cases heard in these courts involve speeding, parking, other traffic infractions, and ordinance violations. The court may also hear first-time OWI offenses and juvenile offenses such as truancy, underage drinking, and underage substance offenses. Other common offenses include:
- Building code violations
- Curfew violations
- Disorderly conduct
- Property Trespassing
- Health code violations
- Animal control violations
Per Section 755.01, every town, city, or village in Wisconsin must establish a municipal court or enter into a partnership with another municipality to develop a common municipal court. In the latter, judges of the common municipality shall have limited jurisdiction over cases originating within the borders of the jurisdiction. Also, all participating municipalities must have similar ordinances, codes, or policies. There may be several branches of a municipal court depending on the size of the municipality.
Furthermore, municipal courts are subject to the Supreme Court’s authority, although the municipality finances the courts. There are 237 municipal courts and 240 municipal judges in Wisconsin. Under Section 755.01, judges of municipal courts are elected in a nonpartisan election to an initial term of two to four years, depending on the municipal ordinance. Municipal judgeship candidates must meet statutory requirements and are eligible for reelection unless incapacitated or removed from office.
These judges process an average of 500,000 cases annually, according to statistical reports by the judiciary. Municipal judges report to the chief judge of the judicial, administrative district. Also, judges appoint court personnel with confirmation by the municipality governing body. The Wisconsin municipal court clerk procedures manual stipulates the municipal court clerk’s duties and activities. Generally, the clerk has record-keeping obligations, processing payments, mail requests, among other responsibilities delegated by the judge. On the other hand, the Wisconsin Municipal Judge Bench book elucidates the judge’s eligibility, duties, and powers and how the court handles the different types of cases within its jurisdiction.
Generally, cases in municipal courts typically begin with an arrest, issuance of citation, or summons (non-criminal violation of an ordinance). A citation is an official notice issued by law enforcement in place of an arrest. It contains the defendant’s personal information, charges, and a date to appear in court. On the other hand, for criminal violations of ordinances, the law enforcement officer may arrest the offender. The offender may then post bail or bond, allowing the party to answer the charges in court on a specified date. If a defendant fails to appear in court, the bond will be forfeited, and the courts may issue an arrest warrant. Failing to appear may result in unsavory administrative penalties, civil or criminal liabilities.
On the other hand, a summons is a notice to appear in court for violating municipal ordinances. Recipients who fail to appear will be found in contempt of the court. If the individual is unable to demonstrate justifiable reasons for contempt, the party will face administrative or civil liabilities in addition to the consequences of the summons.
Per Section 971.10, offenders in Wisconsin have the right to a speedy trial. Thus, a trial must commence within 60 days from the date of the first appearance in court. When a case goes to trial, a county prosecutor represents the state while the defendant may employ a lawyer’s services or attend proceedings pro se. If a defendant needs an attorney and cannot afford one, the municipality will assign a public defender to the case. Municipal judges seldom impose jail time on offenders. Instead, offenders face sanctions, including license suspension, fines, and community service. Offenders may also complete a mandatory recovery program, anger-management sessions, or any applicable program.
Municipal court trials are open to the public, but public attendance of hearings may be restricted in matters deemed confidential or sensitive. Sensitive matters include certain juvenile hearings and, in many cases, proceedings intended to protect the privacy of underage witnesses. The Wisconsin Judiciary maintains a public directory of municipal court locations and contact information. Alternatively, interested individuals may consult this list of municipal court websites.
Furthermore, under the Wisconsin Public Records Law, the public may retrieve publicly available case information from the official custodian unless sealed by court order or statute. Generally, the Wisconsin judiciary deems juvenile court records confidential and only available to persons named on the record and the party’s legal representatives. A public requester must present a court order to obtain court records.
Requesters may visit the court in person or use the online repository maintained by the specific municipal court. For example, to access court records from Milwaukee Municipal Court, visit the court’s website and query the database using case information. The searcher may use the case number, ticket number, location of the offense, and name related to the case.