Area legislators and St. Croix County's three circuit judges gathered Friday to express their happiness over legislation that adds a fourth circuit judge in St. Croix County.
The bill introduced in Madison includes an additional seven judges in the state. It would add a circuit court branch in Barron, Chippewa, Dodge, Green, Juneau, Monroe and St. Croix counties. All would take effect Aug. 1, 2008, except Monroe County which would take effect Aug. 1, 2010.
The state Assembly passed the bill by a 94-2 margin; the Senate passed the bill by a 25-7 margin and the governor signed the bill a week ago Monday making it official.
County voters will elect the new circuit judge in the April 2008 election. The winner in April will be seated the following Aug. 1.
"This is great news for St. Croix County," said State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf.
State Rep. Kitty Rhoades said an important part of the process was the resolutions passed by the county board in support of the additional judge.
"There were some counties in the top 10 (of need), but they were not included because they did not have resolutions from the county board supporting the plan. That's how important the resolutions were."
The county resolutions were important because the county will have to pick up some of the cost. Despite the fact that the judge and court reporter are paid for by the state, the county must pay the cost of a judicial assistant, deputy clerk of court and some one-time costs to get the court up and running.
The annual state cost for a single judge is $234,397, with one-time costs totaling $30,157. Annual county costs are $109,936, with one-time county costs totaling about $26,000.
"Without a resolution, adding a judge would be an unfunded state-mandate for a county," Rhoades said.
"I am glad that the Legislature recognized the exploding growth in St. Croix County by adding a judgeship," said State Rep. John Murtha. "The needs-based assessment helped provide proof that we needed to act."
The three current circuit judges are Eric Lundell (Branch 1), Edward Vlack (Branch 2) and Scott Needham (Branch 3). They expressed their satisfaction at getting a fourth judge.
"Three weeks ago I never thought this would happen," said Needham. "I appreciate the efforts of Sheila, Kitty, John (state representative from District 29 which covers the eastern sections of St. Croix County) and Ann (Ann Hraychuck, state representative from District 28 which covers a small corner of northwest St. Croix County). They went to bat for us."
Needham also said he appreciated the support of the St. Croix County Board.
"The schedule was getting pretty tight. There's only so much you can fit into a day," Needham said.
Lundell was also appreciative of the efforts of area legislators and the county board.
"I was here when we added a third judge (1994) and in the days before we added a third judge we were physically breaking down," Lundell said. "When the third judge was added, it made things more tolerable for a number of years, but we're back to the point of only being able to physically do so much. This will improve things dramatically.'
He added, however, that there will probably be further requests down the line. Statistics already show that St. Croix County is need of about 4.6 judges, up from a 4.2 need in 2005.
Vlack also said that scheduling has been very tight in recent years.
"It is frustrating because there is only so much a person can do," Vlack said. "In court there are often things that should also be done outside the courtroom. I know all three of us have tight schedules."
Needham referred to an October time study that found all but six minutes were accounted for during the work schedule of all three St. Croix County circuit judges for the entire month.