Elections Always Have Consequences
By Heath P. Straka, WAJ President, Axley Brynelson, LLP 

By the time you’re reading this, the August 14 primaries will have just wrapped up and we’ll be barreling towards the general election on November 6. The election this fall features all of Wisconsin’s statewide constitutional officers (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer), a U.S. Senate seat, all members of the U.S. House of Representatives, one half of the state senate (odd-numbered districts), and the entire Assembly.  

Before we set our sights on the fall, it is worthwhile to take a look back at recent elections perhaps already forgotten. On June 28, Caleb Frostman (D-Sturgeon Bay) was sworn in to represent District 1 in the State Senate, Jon Plumer (R-Lodi) became the Representative for AD-42 the previous day. Each had been selected via a June 12 special election and each will be on the ballot again in November. (The remaining legislative battleground is sketched out by Joe Strohl in his column).

Moreover, on August 6, Judge Rebecca Dallet became Justice Dallet, replacing Justice Michael Gableman who is retiring at the completion of his ten-year term on the Court. Judge Dallet was the winner of the April 3 election. Before the dust even settles on November, candidates have already announced their intentions to compete in the Spring 2019 election to replace Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

All of this leads to the point that we as members of this association must always remember: Elections have consequences. While each of these individuals’ tenure in office varies, the potential for each to have an impact long after they leave office is as strong as ever.

Both in the courts as well as the legislature, the personnel quickly become the policy. The Supreme Court is a perfect example of where the candidates in both Spring and Fall elections have the power to shape the law and our clients’ rights. Of the seven members currently serving on our Supreme Court, three were originally appointed to the Court by a Governor. When vacancies occur in the circuit courts, as we know, the Governor can appoint replacements to fill unexpired terms.

Just like legislative turnover, changes on the bench – at all levels, can impact a client or a case. As we know, even the most inventive judges and lawyers are bound by professionalism and precedent. We must always remain thankful that we have one of the best collections of lawyers and judges in the country. As we always explain to legislators, the bar in Wisconsin is collegial, professional, and capable of solving problems without policy intervention. Still, changes in personnel can impact our practices in predictable and unpredictable ways. At minimum, we should hope that our judiciary is marked by independence and fairness towards all parties who rely on the system to deliver justice. 

The same is true in the legislature. The spectrum of policy options affecting the civil justice system varies greatly depending on the candidates earning the privilege to serve in the Capitol. During my career, every biennial legislative session has featured legislation making changes to the civil justice system. For example, this session, we saw the most comprehensive re-write to the rules of discovery and civil procedure in a generation – without the benefit of Judicial Council or Supreme Court’s oversight. These changes complement our courts’ ongoing interpretation and implementation of the law.  The type and breadth of future changes will likely depend on several factors, but a legislature that includes strong defenders of our jury system means that our clients can safely rely on the ability to have their day in court.

This issue of The Verdict discusses many of the changes in the law that will matter most going forward. Whether it is the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles, which are well on their way onto our roadways, or barriers to justice liked forced arbitration, our practices our changing. We owe it to ourselves and to our clients to make our voices heard as these developments come to the fore.  Our voices are loudest at the ballot box.  

As fall approaches, we should remember that many things are likely on the ballot, including the future of the law and our practices— I hope you, your family, friends and neighbors all join me in speaking up.        



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