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Law Enforcement Favors Changes to Probate Posts

With very little discussion, the Marinette County Law Enforcement Committee at a meeting on Monday, April 8, readily approved a recommendation from the county judges to create a Family Court Commissioner-Register of Probate position and also to create a Deputy Register of Probate/Legal Secretary position. At the same time, the recommendation also included eliminating the Family Court Commissioner and the Register of Probate positions once the two new positions are filled.

By way of justifying the move, the following was presented: Recently, our Register in Probate, Kirsten Bellisle, has resigned to assume a new position with the Marinette County Dispatch Center. We now need to fill the Register in Probate position. For a long time, the judges have felt that this position should be filled by an attorney. Probate matters increasingly are handled by pro se individuals, i.e. private citizens acting without an attorney. In order to insure that matters are efficiently and effectively handled, we believe that having an attorney in this position will best accomplish this result. Our proposal therefore is to combine the duties of the Family Court Commissioner with the Register of Probate and to create a Judicial Assistant/Legal Secretary/ Deputy Register in Probate position to work with the Family Court Commissioner/Register in Probate.

Currently there is one Judicial Assistant who does the work for both Circuit Court Judges and the Family Court and the Family Court Commissioner. The norm is one Judicial Assistant for one Judge/Court Commissioner. By hiring a full-time Family Court Commissioner Legal Secretary/Judicial Assistant/ Deputy Register in Probate, we will shift all of the Court Commissioner’s work away from the Judicial Assistant, thus allowing her much more time as Judicial Assistant to the Circuit Court Judges. The clerking duties would remain with the Clerk of Court’s office.

According to County Administrator Ellen Sorensen, no new expenditures would be necessary within the budget through this change. She championed the move as a more efficient delivery of services by the County and its employees.

The position of Court Commissioner/Register in Probate would be appointed, with that appointment originating by the Chief Judge of the 8th Judicial District and the Circuit Court Judges. The appointment would then need to be approved by the County Board. The position would be under the direct supervision of the supervising judges as appointed by the Chief Judge.

By way of explanation, a Court Commissioner conducts hearings in a wide variety of legal matters and establishes mediation programs, all of which are directed by State Statute. A Register in Probate assists the judiciary and public by handling estates, guardianships, trusts and involuntary commitments, but also includes the creation and maintenance of court records involving cases in probate court actions. The position could also conduct hearings in non-contested probate matters.

The pay of the Court Commissioner/Register in Probate was set by the Committee to be at the management scale of level 16, starting at the 24 month experience level, which is currently $92,079, not including benefits.

The Deputy Register in Probate/Legal Secretary position would assist the Register in Probate and public in handling estates, guardianships, trusts, and involuntary commitments, including the creation and maintenance of Court records involving cases in Probate Court. In addition, the Deputy Register in Probate could also hold conduct hearings of non-contested probate matters. As the Legal Secretary, the person would provide paralegal, clerical and statutory support essential to the operation of the Court Commissioner, acting as liaison between County employees, Court Reporters, Department Heads and the general public.

The Deputy Register in Probate/Legal Secretary position, as approved by the Committee, would have a starting salary in the Courthouse wage scale, Level I, which is $16.07 per hour to start with a 57 cent per hour raise in six months, not including benefits.

The creation of the new positions, their wage levels and the elimination of the current positions all will go before the next County Board meeting for approval.

In other matters, the Committee heard an update on the activities of the Dispatch Center. Director Terry Zimmerman introduced the newly hired Assistant Communication Director Kirsten Bellisle. Bellisle had been a dispatcher when she first was hired by the County. In the intervening years she moved over to the courthouse to take the Register of Probate position. She now has moved back.

Zimmerman noted that Bellisle has been working into her position, taking a more supervisory role at night and also working during the days, all in an effort to get to know the staff.

As for the Dispatch Center itself, Zimmerman reported that the monthly calls are down overall compared to last year, but, as has been the trend for the last couple of years, more and more 911 calls are coming to the center from wireless telephones.

Emergency Management Director Eric Burmeister updated the Committee on a couple of items from his department, most notably the schedule Severed Weather/Tornado Awareness Week set for next week. Burmeister explained there will be a county-wide mock tornado drill on Thursday, April 18. His department will be putting out alot of information in the media on it.

Emergency Management is working on a project with the Marinette Fire Department for fire drills in county buildings in the City of Marinette. April 17-20 is the annual Hazmat Training event in the city. Lastly, Burmeister explained that Emergency Management Funding and Port Security Funding should not be affect by the sequester that affecting other parts of the government-the funding is not going up, but at least it’s not going down.

Jail Administrator Bob Majewski reported that jail population remains quite high with a March average of 140.58, which is 27 higher than last year. At one point, the population registered at 154 for a short time. A snapshot of the population on April 7 showed that 13 sentenced inmates are there for alcohol related charges. In the ‘pre-sentence’ category, 50 inmates are awaiting trial on felony offenses, with 22 of them being drug-related charge - 13 of which are heroin related. Majewski added that in the month, the jail averaged less than one boarder per day, with four inmates on average out on electronic monitoring.

Majewski noted that the DVR/Camera project in the jail facility is almost complete, with the company no doing some work at the courthouse. Majewski praised SGTS Company for being an excellent company with which to work, mentioning specifically that they are very conscious of the facility’s security requirements.

Concluding, Majewski reported that preliminary work is being done to prepare a Request for Proposals for the Inmate Telephone System contract, which expires in August.

Upon recommendation of the Sheriff, the Committee forwarded to the County Board an agreement between Marinette County and the Brown County Juvenile Detention Center to contract for 200 bed days a year at a cost of $22,000. The contract is for five consecutive years.

In the last year, the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department made the decision to close their juvenile facility, as did the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Department. Marinette County had contracted with these two facilities to house any juveniles. Like Oconto and Shawano Counties, Brown County extended the offer to house Marinette County juveniles at their facility. Should the county exceed the 200 bed day limit, the charge will be $140 per day.

Sheriff Sauve reported that four of the five new marked patrol units have arrived and are in service. One is still on the way. The new Detective vehicle has arrived and will be placed into service shortly.

The Sheriff’s overtime report showed OT expenses in most categories. The largest amount comes from the patrol officers, but Sauve explained that much of the $11,855.88 will be reimbursed from Task Force/Enforcement Grants.

Supervisor Cheryl Wruk had placed on the agenda a discussion on Jail Safety, especially in light of a recent attack on a Correctional Officer at the Marathon County Jail. This led to a discussion of the procedures and policies in place at the jail and an examination of current jail staffing levels.

Not wanting to get into a discussion on whether or not to begin thinking about adding a pod to the jail, the conversation turned to working with the District Attorney on possible ways of dealing with the high population issue. The discussion also included possible changes to the current internal alignment of inmates which could alleviate population pressures.

Turning their attention to fiscal matters, the Committee reviewed the monthly schedule of invoices, which totaled $227,795.01. Approval was given to write-off $14,016.43 in uncollectible inmate accounts and $90 in civil process accounts. The committee approved submitting $34,260 in inmate accounts to collection and $208 in civil process accounts. The collection agency reported that they were able to secure $16,068.21 from past inmate accounts and $276.50 from past civil process accounts. Collection agencies always have better luck this time of year because it is tax intercept season.

Prior to adjournment, the Committee conducted their annual guided tour of the jail facility.


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