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Wisconsin Circuit Courts

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The Wisconsin Circuit Courts are Wisconsin's trial courts. There are over 200 circuit court judges in Wisconsin.


The Wisconsin constitution confers the circuit courts with original jurisdiction in all matters civil and criminal, in addition to appellate jurisdiction as granted by the legislature.[1] Limitations on the circuit court's ability to hear or adjudge a matter are couched in terms of restrictions on the court's competency to proceed.[2] Some of the more common ways in which a circuit court exercises appellate jurisdiction are statutory and/or certiorari appeals from the decisions of municipal governing bodies or state administrative agencies, or appeals from municipal courts.

Geographic division

The circuit courts are divided into branches. Each branch represents one judge. Each county has at least one branch, with the exception of six counties that are paired off and share judges. The paired counties are: Buffalo/Pepin, Florence/Forest, and Menominee/Shawano. The first two pairs are each staffed by a single judge who travels between the courthouses; Menominee County is a federal reservation and both judges for this circuit are located in Shawano. Of the remaining circuits, 27 have a single judge. The largest circuit is Milwaukee County with 47 judges.[3]

In many of the larger counties, the circuit court is divided into divisions. The most common divisions are Civil Division, Criminal/Traffic Division, Family Division, and Juvenile Division. Judges in these counties are assigned to a division and hear only that type of case until "rotated" to a different division. Judicial rotation is typically done every 2-4 years, depending on the county. Milwaukee County circuit court divisions are broken down even further; for instance, the criminal division judges are assigned either felony or misdemeanor calendars, and within those categories judges may be assigned to hear only domestic violence, drug, or gun cases.

In smaller counties with multiple judges, or in single-judge counties, the judge(s) hear all types of matters.

Judicial administrative districts

The state’s 72 counties are grouped into 10 judicial administrative districts. In each district there is a chief judge appointed by the Supreme Court. The chief judge, who may serve up to three consecutive two-year terms, supervises and directs the administration of the district. In carrying out these duties, the chief judge is charged by Supreme Court rule to cooperate with the director of state courts.

Each chief judge appoints a deputy chief judge to act in the event of his or her absence or unavailability. A professional district court administrator and a court management assistant, both employees of the director of state courts and permanently located in the district, assist the chief judge. The chief judges meet monthly as a committee, as do the district court administrators.

District Counties served
1st Judicial District Milwaukee
2nd Judicial District Kenosha, Racine and Walworth
3rd Judicial District Jefferson, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha
4th Judicial District Calumet, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Winnebago
5th Judicial District Dane, Green, Lafayette and Rock
6th Judicial District Adams, Clark, Columbia, Dodge, Green Lake, Juneau, Marquette, Portage, Sauk, Waushara and Wood
7th Judicial District Buffalo, Crawford, Iowa, Grant, La Crosse, Jackson, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Richland, Trempealeau and Vernon
8th Judicial District Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Marinette, Oconto, Outagamie and Waupaca
9th Judicial District Florence, Forest, Iron, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Menominee, Oneida, Price, Shawano, Taylor and Vilas
10th Judicial District Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Chippewa, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix and Washburn

Courts by county

Per the Wisconsin Constitution, circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms.

Clerks of Circuit Court

Clerks of circuit court are independently elected, constitutional officers who work in close cooperation with the chief judges, district court administrators, and staff of the Director of State Courts Office. The clerks provide management and administrative leadership in each circuit and are indispensable to the effective functioning of Wisconsin’s circuit courts. Each county elects its own clerk of circuit court, even when the county shares its circuit court judge with another county.




The circuit courts are funded with a combination of state and county money. State funds are used to pay the salaries of the judges, official court reporters, and reserve judges (retired judges who are assigned to hear cases when the need arises). The state also funds travel and training for the judges.

By law, the counties are responsible for all other operating costs except those enumerated by statute. For those exceptions, which include among other things the costs of providing guardians ad litem (court-appointed attorneys), court-appointed witnesses, interpreters, and jurors, the state provides assistance in the form of statutory formula grants.

List of judges is current as of September 10, 2010.[4]


  1. Wis. Const. art. VII, § 8.
  2. See, e.g., Mueller v. Brunn, 105 Wis. 2d 171, 177-78, 313 N.W.2d 790 (1982)
  3. State of Wisconsin's Circuit Courts Page
  4. Courthouse addresses and phone/fax numbers for the circuit court