Wisconsin Municipal Courts
Municipal courts in Wisconsin have jurisdiction over non-criminal traffic cases and municipal ordinance violations.
Formation and structure
Municipal courts are a local option for any municipality; in other words, not every Wisconsin municipality has a municipal court. In communities that do not have a municipal court, traffic and ordinance matters are heard in circuit court, which is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Municipal courts may be created to serve only one municipality, or, may be set up as a joint court serving any number of municipalities.
Jurisdiction and caseload
Traffic and ordinance citations issued by a county sheriff's office or the Wisconsin State Patrol are heard in circuit court, even if arising from an incident occurring within a municipality that has a municipal court. As such, municipal courts are most common in communities that have their own police department.
Municipal courts have jurisdiction only over non-criminal, municipal ordinance violations. This includes all non-criminal traffic offenses, including first offense drunk driving, and many "quasi-criminal" violations which could be charged as either a criminal or municipal offense, such as disorderly conduct, retail theft, vandalism, etc. Offenses committed by juveniles and young adults, such as underage drinking, curfew violations, and truancy, make up a significant portion of the typical municipal court caseload.
The burden of proof in municipal court cases is to reasonable certainty by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence.
Qualifications of municipal judges
Municipal court judge is an elective office, therefore, municipal court judges must be a qualified elector within the court's jurisdiction. The municipality establishing a municipal court may, by ordinance, establish additional minimum requirements; the most common being that the municipal judge be a licensed Wisconsin attorney. Some communities do not adopt such a requirement, and the municipal judge may not have had any formal legal training. However, municipal judges must attend Municipal Judge Education after their election. Municipal judges must also earn continuing education credits each year.
Any litigant aggrieved by a decision of a municipal court may appeal to the circuit court of the county where the offense occurred. The "default" form of appeal is circuit court review of the municipal court transcripts. The appellant may request, or the circuit court may order, a de novo trial to a circuit court judge, or de novo trial to a six-person jury. An appellate decision has limited the right of trial de novo to situations where a trial took place in the municipal court. If a municipal court trial did not take place, the appellant is limited to circuit court review of the municipal court transcript.
Municipal courts by county
48 counties in Wisconsin have municipal courts.