University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Toepel, M. G.; Theobald, H. Rupert (ed.) / The Wisconsin Blue Book, 1962

Judicial branch,   pp. [549]-564 PDF (4.4 MB)

Page 550

                    WISCONSIN COURTS
  The basic framework of the court system in Wisconsin was laid
out in the Constitution when Wisconsin became a state in 1848.
Judicial power was vested in a Supreme Court, circuit courts,
courts of probate, and justices of the peace. The Legislature was
granted power to establish municipal and inferior courts; and, sub-
ject to certain limitations, to determine their jurisdiction. By the
1848 Constitution, the state was divided into 5 judicial circuit
districts. The 5 judges presiding over the circuit courts were to
meet at least once a year at Madison as a Supreme Court until the
Legislature established a Supreme Court as a separate body. In
1852 the Legislature established a separate Supreme Court consist-
ing of 3 justices. The number of justices was increased to 5 in 1877
and in 1903 to 7, its present number.
   Over the next 100 years, the Legislature acting pursuant to con-
stitutional authority created a large number of statutory courts
with varying amounts of jurisdiction. The first important step was
taken in 1849 when the Legislature created a county court in each
county with probate jurisdiction and abolished the probate courts
as such. By later individual acts, municipal and inferior courts
were created with varying amounts of civil and criminal jurisdiction.
The jurisdiction of many of the county courts was expanded by
special acts, too. The result of all these special laws was that many
of the 71 counties in the state had a court system which differed
from others. There was little uniformity in the additional jurisdic-
tion among the county courts of the many counties; and there was
overlapping jurisdiction between the different types of courts in
a single county. Court procedure in the various courts was not the
same either. Furthermore, a number of special courts sprang up
in the heavily urban areas such as Milwaukee County where the
judicial burden was the greatest. By 1958 the Legislature had
created 29 municipal courts, and many inferior courts, viz.: 2
superior courts, several small claims courts, and in Milwaukee
County a civil court with 6 branches, a district court with 2 branches,
and a children's court. In addition, police justice courts were
established by municipalities for enforcement of local ordinances
and there were some 1,800 justices of the peace courts, many of
which were virtually inactive.
   The apparent confused pattern of courts in Wisconsin caused
 the 1951 Legislature to direct the Judicial Council to study and
 make a recommendation for a court reorganization plan. As a
 result of exhaustive study, the 1959 Legislature passed a law,
 Chapter 315, Laws 1959, which was the basic law to reorganize
 the court system effective January, 1962. The 1961 Legislature
 refined this plan by a series of acts.

Go up to Top of Page