The modification of spousal maintenance is an issue that arises frequently after a divorce. In some cases, a party may not be satisfied with the original maintenance award issued by the court and may try to have it changed after the requisite period of time has passed. In other instances, circumstances may change for one or both parties, causing a party to file for the modification of an award. Although many modifications are warranted, courts do not take such requests lightly and will require parties to prove that there is a significant basis for changing a maintenance award. A recent case before the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin looks at both acceptable and unacceptable bases for modification.
Convictions for drug possession and drug trafficking often arise as a result of the search and seizure of an individual’s person or property for drugs. However, these types of searches may only occur where a police officer or investigator has “probable cause” to support the search. This is because the United States Constitution provides protection against unwarranted search and seizure. A recent case in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals illustrates the limits on prosecuting individuals for drug crimes where a search and seizure is deemed unconstitutional.
In State of Wisconsin v. Demario Derrick Foster, an unpublished opinion, Foster was arrested on multiple counts of drug offenses. At trial, he moved to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his person, arguing that the police officers lacked probable cause to arrest him.
There are a number of elections for judges going on in Wisconsin now. The contest drawing the most attention is the election for the Supreme Court. Some of the ads, typically run by special interest groups, have been disturbingly misleading. For example, a series of ads have been run attacking one of the candidates for decisions she’s written as an Appeals Court judge that are alleged to be supporting “criminals” rather than the general good. At the same time, the other candidate is saying she should be elected because she’d be more likely to “uphold the Constitution”. In reality, when a judge issues a decision that protects an accused’s 4th amendment rights, she is upholding the Constitution. In the law, “criminals” don’t have different rights than the rest of us-we all have the same rights. So if a judge says that the police violated somebody’s rights by illegally searching them or coercing them to make a statement, she’s protecting the rights of all of us, not just the accused. Occasionally, by upholding the Constitution, someone accused of a crime is not able to be prosecuted. Typically, the judge making that decision isn’t happy about it, but sees the greater good in protecting the Constitutional rights of all citizens. Judges should be applauded for this, not attacked. It takes a judge of strong character to issue unpopular decisions and perhaps even risk losing their jobs because they feel the Constitutional rights of all of us are more important than the results in just one case.
Good lawyers who do criminal defense work know this, of course. We spend our professional careers challenging violations of our clients rights and standing up to authority figures on behalf of unpopular causes and unpopular clients. When judges do the right thing, we’d like to think they’d be recognized for their courage, but, sadly, that is seldom how it works. As you make your decision on who to vote for this spring in these judicial elections, don’t be swayed by ads that claim their candidate is “tough on crime” or that their candidate protects the Constitution by ruling against “criminals”. The best judges on criminal cases are the ones that carefully apply the Bill of Rights to a set of facts and work to insure that the rights of all of us are protected.
Recently, a local paper in Wisconsin published a list of judges, purporting to rank them from best to worst, based on a survey of lawyers. Lists like this come out from time to time of both lawyers and judges, presumably in an effort to educate the public regarding the quality of the legal community. It is true that not many members of the public would have any meaningful way to compare judges or attorneys, as most simply don’t have enough contact with the legal system to have an opinion. Having said that, I recommend that people who read these rankings do so with the understanding that these lists have some undeniable weaknesses that may make them less than reliable.
For example, the most recent ranking of judges was based exclusively on the opinions of the lawyers who answered the survey. In many cases, there were only a handful of responses. Obviously, if the sample size is so small as to not be representative of the opinion of the bar as a whole, one or 2 disgruntled lawyers who may have had a bad experience in that court can unfairly skew the results. Also, some of the judges had only been on the bench for a few months, while others had been acting as judges for decades. Obviously, the opinion regarding a judge, good or bad, is likely to have more weight if it is based on years of observation than one based on a few short months.
As to the lawyer lists, unfortunately, ranking lawyers has become something of a cottage industry. Barely a month goes by without someone at our firm being notified that some organization, national or local, has selected them to be on their “best lawyer” list. Typically, to accept this “honor”, you simply need to mail in your check for the “dues” to belong and you can be ranked as one of the best lawyers in Milwaukee or Wisconsin or America! Obviously, consumers should be careful in hiring counsel based on the number of plaques in a lawyer’s office proclaiming them the 2016 “best” criminal lawyer or “best” divorce lawyer or any other designation. I say this with the full disclosure that this firm has received the highest ranking from Martindale-Hubbell for approximately 20 years and both Attorneys Singer and Reddin have been ranked as top lawyers in Milwaukee by local magazines in the last year and for multiple years. We do not pay “dues” or any fee for these rankings and, to the extent that they are based on the opinion of fellow lawyers who know us, we are proud of our inclusion as among the best in our field. I would never suggest, however, that a person looking for a lawyer rely exclusively on our rankings or any attorney’s ranking, except to the extent that the ranking confirms your opinion of the lawyer’s competence.