Monday, October 8, 2012

Wisconsin's Criminal Law Under Shirley Abrhamson

Her First and Last Two Years as Chief Justice

By Dana A. Vitarelli
Dana Vitarelli, a 2012 cum laude graduate of Albany Law School, did her undergraduate work in psychology at the State University of New York at Geneseo. In law school, she was the Research and Writing Editor and Business Manager for the Journal of Science & Technology and Chair of the Domenick L. Gabrielli Appellate Advocacy Competition for the Moot Court Editorial Board.
This paper was prepared for the State Constitutional Adjudication Seminar, Spring 2012.

Born and raised in New York City, Chief Justice Abrahamson had been in private practice in Madison, Wisconsin for fourteen years and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School when she was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976. At that time, she was the only woman to serve on the court.

She was elected to the court in 1979 and re-elected in 1989, 1999, and 2009. Since August 1, 1996, she has been Chief Justice and, in that capacity, serves as the administrative leader of the Wisconsin court system. Her current term expires July 31, 2019.

Abrahamson has authored more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3,500 written decisions of the court. This makes her a great case study.

This paper will try to determine how and why she decides the cases that come before her court. It will specifically examine the opinions written by Chief Justice Abrahamson--majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions. To keep this examination manageable, the scope is narrowed to include her first two years and last two years as chief justice. It is the goal of this paper to discern if Abrahamson, in her sixteen years as chief justice, has changed her approach to deciding criminal law cases from the beginning of her term to the present.*
* Citations to references in this introduction are available in the paper.
To read the entire paper, open HERE.