Public Defender Outcomes, 1995-96 through 2013-14

This post presents findings from an examination of 201 cases in which attorneys from the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office delivered oral arguments before the Supreme Court during a period covering nineteen terms (1995-96 through 2013-14—the current extent of the SCOWstats database).[1]

Our focus centers on the outcomes—categorized as either “favorable” or “unfavorable” toward the positions advocated by the Public Defender’s attorneys—and we’ll begin by considering the terms during which the Court’s current set of justices have served together (2008-09 through 2013-14).  These six terms have yielded 61 cases in the category under scrutiny here, and of these 61 decisions, only eleven—or 18%—favored the Public Defender’s positions.  In contrast, during the previous 13 terms (1995-96 through 2007-08), 32% of the 140 relevant decisions sided with the Public Defender.

The following list is a year-by-year compilation of the percentages of favorable outcomes for the Public Defender, with figures that also specify the total number of cases heard each term in which the Public Defender’s attorneys delivered oral arguments.  The line for 2013-14, for instance, indicates that the Court sided with the Public Defender’s attorneys in two of 15 decisions—or 13% of the time.  Over the years, the Court’s membership changed several times, and these alterations are indicated at the appropriate points in the list below. 

2008-09 through 2013-14
(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Roggensack, Ziegler, and Gableman)

2013-14: 2/15=13%
2012-13: 3/9=33%
2011-12: 5/15=33%
2010-11: 0/7=0%
2009-10: 1/10=10%
2008-09: 0/5=0%

(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Roggensack, Ziegler, and Butler)

2007-08: 2/7=29%

2004-05 through 2006-07
(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Roggensack, Butler, and Wilcox)

2006-07: 5/12=42%
2005-06: 4/11=36%
2004-05: 3/11=27%

(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Roggensack, Wilcox, and Sykes)

2003-04: 3/8=38%

1999-00 through 2002-03
(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Wilcox, Sykes, and Bablitch)

2002-03: 6/15=40%
2001-02: 4/16=25%
2000-01: 3/11=27%
1999-00: 4/12=33%

(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Wilcox, Bablitch, and Steinmetz)

1998-99: 2/13=15%

1996-97 through 1997-98
(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Wilcox, Bablitch, Steinmetz, and Geske)

1997-98: 3/7=43%
1996-97: 3/6=50%

1995-96—the year in which the database currently ends
(Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Wilcox, Bablitch, Steinmetz, Geske, and Day)

1995-96: 3/11=27%

Information available on the Wisconsin Court System website also permits calculation of the voting records of individual justices in the 201 cases assembled here.  The results are arrayed below in descending order of support for arguments advanced by the Public Defender’s attorneys—and the contrasts are striking.  Among the Court’s current members, Justices Abrahamson and Bradley found the Public Defender’s arguments meritorious in 62% and 58% respectively of the arguments that they heard, while for Justices Roggensack, Gableman, and Ziegler, the figures were 14%, 13%, and 12% respectively.

In the ratios below, the denominator indicates the number of Public Defender arguments heard by a justice, with the differing totals among justices explained by the fact that they have served for varying numbers of years.  Only the tenures of Justices Abrahamson and Bradley have spanned the entire nineteen terms and all 201 cases.  The numerator indicates how many times a justice sided with the Public Defender.

Abrahamson 124/201=62%
Bradley 116/201=58%
Butler 22/41=54%
Geske 13/24=54%
Bablitch 39/91=43%
Day 3/11=27%
Steinmetz 10/37=27%
Sykes 16/59=27%
Crooks 47/189=25%
Wilcox 30/131=23%
Prosser 36/166=22%
Roggensack 15/108=14%
Gableman 8/61=13%
Ziegler 8/67=12%

[1] The total of 201 cases does not include fourteen per curiam decisions, and it also omits two cases in which several justices concurred with varying parts, and dissented with varying parts, of the “majority” decisions.  State v. Jerrell C.J. (2002AP3423) and State v. Stenklyft (2003AP1533-CR).

About Alan Ball

Alan Ball is a Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 95 years.

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