Wisconsin Circuit Courts
The Wisconsin Circuit Courts are Wisconsin's trial courts. There are over 200 circuit court judges in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin constitution confers the circuit courts with original jurisdiction in all matters civil and criminal, in addition to appellate jurisdiction as granted by the legislature. Limitations on the circuit court's ability to hear or adjudge a matter are couched in terms of restrictions on the court's competency to proceed. Some of the more common ways in which a circuit court exercises appellate jurisdiction are statutory and/or certiorari appeals from the decisions of municipal governing bodies or state administrative agencies, or appeals from municipal courts.
The circuit courts are divided into branches. Each branch represents one judge. Each county has at least one branch, with the exception of six counties that are paired off and share judges. The paired counties are: Buffalo/Pepin, Florence/Forest, and Menominee/Shawano. The first two pairs are each staffed by a single judge who travels between the courthouses; Menominee County is a federal reservation and both judges for this circuit are located in Shawano. Of the remaining circuits, 27 have a single judge. The largest circuit is Milwaukee County with 47 judges.
In many of the larger counties, the circuit court is divided into divisions. The most common divisions are Civil Division, Criminal/Traffic Division, Family Division, and Juvenile Division. Judges in these counties are assigned to a division and hear only that type of case until "rotated" to a different division. Judicial rotation is typically done every 2-4 years, depending on the county. Milwaukee County circuit court divisions are broken down even further; for instance, the criminal division judges are assigned either felony or misdemeanor calendars, and within those categories judges may be assigned to hear only domestic violence, drug, or gun cases.
In smaller counties with multiple judges, or in single-judge counties, the judge(s) hear all types of matters.
Judicial administrative districts
The state’s 72 counties are grouped into 10 judicial administrative districts. In each district there is a chief judge appointed by the Supreme Court. The chief judge, who may serve up to three consecutive two-year terms, supervises and directs the administration of the district. In carrying out these duties, the chief judge is charged by Supreme Court rule to cooperate with the director of state courts.
Each chief judge appoints a deputy chief judge to act in the event of his or her absence or unavailability. A professional district court administrator and a court management assistant, both employees of the director of state courts and permanently located in the district, assist the chief judge. The chief judges meet monthly as a committee, as do the district court administrators.