Wisconsin Courts COVID-19 Task Force Releases Final Report

In late April, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack convened a statewide taskforce to address COVID-19 in the Wisconsin courts system. On May 15, that task force released its final report making recommendations for courts to safely restart in-person proceedings and jury trials.

Generally, the report recommends counties establish stakeholder groups to plan for resuming operations. Stakeholder groups should include judges, county health departments, clerks, county sheriffs, administrators, facilities managers, and attorneys, among others. The report encourages judicial leaders to balance the need for speedy caseload management with public safety.

The report goes on to provide recommendations for:

  • Recommendations include plans for dealing with staff shortages, establishing safe work environments with proper social distancing and protective equipment, continuing remote work if necessary, and creating procedures for when an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Facilities and equipment. Considerations recommended in the report include signage and floor markings, barriers, other protective equipment, air purification, health screenings, cleaning procedures, and potentially alternative larger facilities to allow for social distancing.
  • In-person re-engagement. The report recommends a four-phased approach to returning to in-person operations:

    1) Limited in-person proceedings, with criminal matters (except jury trials), mental commitment and guardianship hearings, juvenile proceedings, certain civil family matters, and time sensitive small claims.

    2) In person processing of all cases, except jury trials.

    3) In person processing of all cases, including jury trials.

    4) Resumption of all in-person proceedings with no safety criteria restrictions.

    The safety recommendations include many of the guidelines for social distancing and sanitizing facilities recommended by the state Department of Health Services and federal agencies.

  • Jury trials. The task force recommends establishing a subcommittee on recovery planning for jury trials to address COVID-19 issues as needed throughout the reopening process. The report also encourages counties to educate the public about the importance of jury service and how the county is addressing juror safety during the pandemic.