By John DiMotto
Unlike a single judge county, where the judge must be a "jack of all trades," in Milwaukee County we serve in specific divisions and specialize in an area. So, how does a judge prepare for a new assignment? For me, it is to work up outlines and checklists (O & C) in the months before I begin my new assignment followed by mentoring with judges in the new division before the rotation takes place.
In the months before the actual rotation, I devote some time every week going over the statutes that govern the area of law I am going into followed by reviewing the Judicial Benchbook for that area. For example, I am currently reviewing Chapters 48 and 938. The Juvenile Code is quite technical and the time constraints for getting things done can be a challenge. As I am doing this review, I write up outlines and checklist with respect to topics within the area.
So far I have O & C for TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) cases, CHIPS (Children in need of Protection and Services) cases, Juvenile Guardianship cases and Adoption cases and I am working on Delinquency cases O & C. I have multiple O & C in each of these areas to deal with specific issues in each area. For example, I have one for TPR timelines and a separate one for CHIPS timelines. The reason is that when an issue arises, I can go to an O & C which addresses that single issue without having to go through a 50 page O & C.
O & C is my way to learn and remember an area of the law. When I have them done, I will truly be ready for my new assignment. I also have them posted on CourtNet, which is connected to the Wisconsin Court System, for other judges. I think that it is important for judges to share their work product with each other. We can help make each other better judges and thus provide better justice to those people who appear before us.