June 30, 2022 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has issued an
order, effective June 29, 2022 extending the five-year-old Commercial Docket Pilot Project.
The order amends the Interim Commercial Court Rule to extend the end date of the project to July 30, 2024.
Additionally, the order amends the rule to 1) make the selection of specified number of judges in pilot project counties by the Chief Justice of the supreme court permissive instead of mandatory; and 2) specify that the Chief Justice shall select judges for commercial dockets “after considering the recommendation of the chief judge of the Judicial Administrative District.”
According to the order, the petition asking the supreme court to extend the pilot project “asks the court to amend [the rule] … to reflect the existing practice that the Chief Justice considers the recommendation of the Chief Judge of the Judicial Administrative District when selecting judges for the pilot project.”
Scope of Pilot Project
The supreme court, under then-Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, established the Commercial Docket Pilot Project in 2017.
The project initially included Waukesha County and seven counties in District Eight – Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Marinette, Oconto, Outagamie, and Waupaca counties. A number of circuit court judges were assigned to the commercial court docket.
Waukesha County and District Eight were selected for a three-year pilot project in part because both are centers of commercial activity.
If a county is participating in the pilot project,
certain cases must be assigned to the commercial docket. For other cases, the parties may jointly petition to have the case placed on the commercial docket.
goals of the commercial docket are to:
improve the quality of justice and the predictability of decisions in business disputes;
improve access to justice for parties to business disputes;
reduce the likelihood of repeat disputes by providing guidance from decisions; and
make Wisconsin a desirable forum for resolving business disputes.
The supreme court publishes commercial court decisions on a page on its
website. The page includes links to the forms lawyers need to file cases that are eligible for the commercial court.
Order is Second Extension of Pilot Project
In 2020, the supreme court extended the pilot project by two years and set a new expiration date of July 2020.
The supreme court also expanded the pilot project to include Dane County, the
14 northwestern counties that make up District Ten, and three counties in District Two – Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth.
Under the order issued on June 29, the pilot project will continue until July 30, 2024.
Dissent Argues Lack of Evidence
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented from the order. She was joined by Justice Rebecca Dallet and Justice Jill Karofsky.
A.W. Bradley pointed out that the pilot project “lacks evidence-based data to justify its continuation.”
The petition filed to create the pilot project was based on anecdotal evidence, Justice A.W. Bradley noted.
“There was no data evidencing a delay in handling of complex commercial litigation cases, a lack of predictable results, or any unfair handling of such cases—which were the justifications for creating the pilot project,” Justice A.W. Bradley wrote.
A.W. Bradley also argued that it was wrong to not hold a public hearing on the petition asking the supreme court to extend the pilot project.
“I recognize that the petition requests continuation of a pilot project and not a permanent rule change,” Justice A.W. Bradley wrote. “But this is not ordinary pilot project. It is controversial and substantial.
“Additionally, it affects not merely a few isolated venues, but rather affects a change of practice and procedure in every county of this state because any county can refer a case to a designated pilot business court.”