Judges do not like it when their decisions are overturned by a higher court.
They take it personally -- getting overturned is seen as a public rebuke delivered by a bunch of Court of Appeals judges who have probably forgotten what it's like down in the trenches. (There are some judges, however, who may take a particular reversal as a badge of honor, depending on the issues in dispute and the appeals panel hearing the case.)
It was a tough year for Eau Claire County Circuit Judge William Gabler, who was appealed five times, reversed four times and affirmed just once, according to the Wisconsin Law Journal. Gabler, first appointed to the bench in 1999 by Gov. Tommy Thompson, had more cases overturned by the Court of Appeals than any other judge in the state.
Gabler's 20% affirm rate is well below the 86% statewide rate. There were 783 Appeals Court decisions last year, with 672 cases affirmed and 111 overturned, according to the Law Journal, which published its annual statistical analysis of Appeals Court decisions.
Appellate lawyer Nick Zales said judging circuit court judges by the number of times they are reversed "is not fair."
"Being reversed is not necessarily a bad thing," he said in a Facebook comment. "It just could be a judge trying to do good but the law appears to prohibit it ... They probably make hundreds of decisions every year. If one makes 200 decisions and 10 are appealed that seems damn good to me."
Two Dane County judges, William Hanrahan and Rhonda Lanford, had three reversals each, the second highest number in the state. Hanrahan's rulings were appealed 11 times and Lanford's were appealed nine times. Hanrahan was first appointed to the bench in 2007 by Gov. Jim Doyle; Lanford was elected in 2013.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner was appealed 21 times, the most in the state, but reversed just once.
There were nine appealed 10 times or more (all from Dane or Milwaukee Counties). the number of their decisions affirmed and the number reversed:
Dane County - Juan Colas (10,0); Hanrahan (8, 3)
Milwaukee County - Rebecca Dallet (11, 1); Christoper Foley (11, 0); William Pocan (10, 0); Stephanie Rothstein (11, 0); Mark Sanders (11,0); Jeffrey Wagner (20, 1); Glenn Yamahiro (11, 0).
Overall, according to the Law Journal, the District 1 Court of Appeals, which includes all of Milwaukee County, was far more likely to affirm lower court decisions than any of the other three district courts. District 1 affirmed 93 percent of the time; in District 2, 85 percent of cases were affirmed; in District 3, 81 percent; and in District 4, 82%. You can see a map of Court of Appeals districts here.
Zales, the lawyer, said he found the disparity in affirm rates "the most disturbing. A case should not be decided on appeal by which district you happen to bring it in."
The Law Journal cautions that an Appeals Court reversal could ultimately be undone by the State Supreme Court.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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