MADISON — Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick has been appointed as the new director of state courts.
Koschnick will fill the post now held on an interim basis by J. Denis Moran, effective Aug. 1, 2017.
He was first elected circuit court judge in Jefferson County in 1999 after having worked 14 years as a public defender in La Crosse and Jefferson counties from 1985-99. He was re-elected in 2005 and 2011.
His seat on the bench is due up for election in April 2017. Nomination papers for that post can be taken out starting Dec. 1.
“I will serve through the end of my term, which is July 31,” Koschnick said. “I’m committing to this position. I’m not going to be running for office while I’m director of state courts.”
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack announced the appointment Thursday.
“We are pleased that Judge Koschnick accepted this position,” Roggensack said. “His experience on the bench and as chief judge of a judicial administrative district will be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court and the entire court system.”
The position has been open since July 2014, when former director John Voelker left to become deputy secretary of the state Department of Employee Trust Funds.
In the interim, Moran has been serving in the role since June 2015. He previously had been administrative head of the state’s court system from 1978 until his retirement in 2003.
Under the direction of the chief justice, the position is the chief non-judicial officer of the state court system and has authority and responsibility for the overall management of the court system. Working with department heads, advisory committees and chief judges of the state’s 10 judicial administrative districts, the director has responsibility for personnel, budgeting and information technology, among other duties, and provides advice to the Supreme Court on a wide range of matters affecting the judiciary.
Koschnick has administrative background as presiding judge in Jefferson County and, since 2012, chief judge in the Third Judicial District, which includes courts in Jefferson, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties. He previously served as the district’s deputy chief judge.
“Those were primarily judicial administration responsibilities,” Koschnick said. “This is a new challenge for me and it is an opportunity to take what I’ve learned to a statewide level, and I’m going to try and improve the efficiency of the court system on a statewide level.”
Koschnick was a recipient of the Wisconsin Law Journal’s 2008 Leaders in Law award for implementing a number of significant changes designed to save the taxpayers of Jefferson County money and enhance the public safety while improving the speed at which cases are processed in the county.
Within Jefferson County, the judge implemented a system where two of the judges covered criminal and traffic matters, one was assigned civil and family matters and the fourth handled general court such as juvenile and small claims matters.
Jefferson County has been No. 1 in the state since 2008 for processing cases through the system in overall median case age and disposition.
Before the changes instituted by Koschnick in 2007, the county was ranked between 18th and 20th statewide. At the time it was instituted, the change was controversial among the judges.
“I think it has proven itself over the years,” Koschnick said.
Such decisions generally are set by the judges in each county and then approved by the chief judge and the director of state courts.
“I would not see myself imposing (my ideas) on anybody, but I can offer assistance and advice to individual counties that are having backlog problems,” Koschnick said. “I would love to go in and tell them ‘here’s what worked for me’ and maybe help them design something that would have the same basic features.”
The judge noted that backlogs of cases are a disservice to everybody.
“You have people in jail waiting longer for trial, victims waiting longer for justice,’ he said. “I’m not trying to rush anything, but I think the courts should operate as efficiently as possible so the judge runs the calendar instead the calendar running the judge.”
Also, Koschnick said he would try to focus on judicial education on constitutional law and the importance of understanding the development of law and the doctrine of the rule of law.
As a result of his departure, the Jefferson County court system will be seeing two new judges in 2017.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David Wambach announced his intention to step down from the bench, effective March 31, 2017.
Wambach submitted a retirement letter in late September to state and county officials announcing his intention to retire after 32 years of public service as both a prosecutor and judge.
An appointee will serve through April 2018, at which time an election for the seat would be held. The deadline for applications for this position already has passed.
Koschnick said he is hopeful Gov. Scott Walker will appoint someone to Wambach’s seat before he leaves.
“One of the reasons I’m not doing it suddenly is so we don’t have a drastic change,” he said. “I don’t want to have two vacancies.”
Koschnick will be appointing Judge William Hue as presiding judge so someone is in charge when he leaves. In addition, he will work with the judges to address the numerous committee assignments he currently has within the county as well.
In the interim, the Supreme Court will appoint a new chief judge in Third Judicial Administrative District who will then have the opportunity to select whoever they see fit as presiding judge in Jefferson County.