A Typical Waukesha Lawyer’s Path to the WI Supreme Court


While substantive aspects of the law decide many cases, procedural aspects also commonly come under review. This blog post is a general procedural description outlining how a case transitions from its humble beginnings to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

An individual, group, corporation or government entity may bring a civil case, and the government may commence a criminal case, in the circuit court. This is where the typical trials we see on TV shows take place. After the proceedings, the circuit court will rule in favor of one party. There are 241 circuit courts in Wisconsin as of this blog post.

The losing party in a case, if they believe the ruling was in error, appeals the case to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals is utilized primarily as an error correcting court; it is made up of four districts and 16 judges (Waukesha is included in District II). The Court of Appeals must hear all appeals brought before it, and will either: 1) review the case, using legal briefs and the record of circuit court proceedings (there is rarely oral argument at the Court of Appeals), and rule in favor of one party, or 2)certify the question to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Certification means that, instead of making its own ruling, the Court of Appeals asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly. Certification happens when a case presents a question of law better suited for the Supreme Court; it takes a vote of at least four justices to take a case on Certification.


However, the standard path of a case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court happens when the losing party in a Court of Appeals files a Petition for Review (the party asks the high court to hear the case). The Wisconsin Supreme Court typically hears approximately 10% of the cases brought by Petition for Review each term. It takes a vote of at least three justices to take a case on a Petition for Review.

As the final stop for a case in the state of Wisconsin, each party is allowed 30 minutes of oral argument before the Supreme Court, and each party submits a brief detailing their legal argument. After the case, the judges meet and vote to determine which side is the winner. In addition, at this conference, a justice is assigned to write the majority opinion. Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court is always busy, the turnaround time for releasing a decision is fairly speedy and appear on the court system website for public review. You can also watch recorded videos of the oral arguments in a case; the Wisconsin Supreme Court takes pride in its transparency.


In the alternative, there are three, albeit less used, paths to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. First, an individual or government entity may ask the Supreme Court to take Original Action in a case because it has not been heard by any other court. However, in order to use this option, the facts to a case must be stipulated to by the parties. Second, after the circuit court, the losing party can file a Petition to Bypass, which has a case skip the Court of Appeals and needs four justices to approve the petition. Finally, the Supreme Court can take bypass the Court of Appeals on its own motion by a vote of four justices; this path is called Direct Review.

This may seem like a long, complex, and arduous process to consider; however, when your livelihood, rights, and estate are at stake, you deserve every option to have your case heard. Justice is not a premium in our system, it is an everyday right. If you have a case and have questions concerning the process, call McAvoy & Murphy Law Firm. We will answer your initial questions for free. Nobody should be in the dark when it comes to legal rights and privileges.

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