Gretchen Schuldt
Court Watch

What Covid Did To The Courts

Huge backlog of cases could take years to clear. Big numbers in Milwaukee and biggest counties.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Nov 14th, 2021 12:39 pm
Milwaukee County Courthouse

Milwaukee County Courthouse. File photo by Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano has said it will take up to two years to clear the case backlog in criminal division of the county’s circuit court system.

Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis told officials there that the county’s backlog has risen from 1,900 in 2019 to more than 3,000 this year.

In counties all over the state, COVID-19 has slowed courts to a crawl.

There were 58,678 pending criminal cases in circuit court in December 2019, according to state statistics. By December 2020, that number had risen 28%, to 75,153, an increase of 16,475.

Wisconsin Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Wisconsin Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

State population: 5,822,434

Biggest change: The number of felony cases went up by 35%, or 9991 cases, from December 2019 to December 2020, according to state statistics.

Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 130 days; 2020 – 170 days, up 31%.

The increases have hit counties large and small and in between. We examined the differences in 15 counties – the five largest by population, the five smallest, and five smack in the middle. We’ll look at the five largest cases today, and the rest next week.

Large Counties

Milwaukee County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Milwaukee County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Milwaukee County population: 939,489

Biggest change: The number of felony cases shot up by 33%, or 1,267 cases, from December 2019 to December 2020.

Of note: Pending criminal traffic cases fell by 437, or 43%, likely the result of less traffic and the reluctance of officers, due to COVID concerns, to come in direct contact with drivers.

As measured as a percentage, Milwaukee County had the second smallest increase in pending cases among the five counties – 18%.

Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 124 days; 2020 – 269 days, up 117%.

Dane County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Dane County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Dane County population: 561,504

Biggest changes: As measured by numbers, pending felonies increased by 1,598, the most in any category. As measured by percentage, pending misdemeanors rose 83%, also tops.

Of note: Dane County saw big increases in all three categories. Pending felonies were up 73%, misdemeanors, as stated above, were up 83%, and criminal traffic cases were up 61%. Its overall increase in pending criminal cases was 76%.

Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 126 days; 2020 – 211 days, up 67%.

Waukesha County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Waukesha County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Waukesha County population: 406,978

Biggest changes: As measured by numbers, pending misdemeanors increased by 826, the most in any category. As measured as a percentage, pending felonies rose 68%, also tops.

Of note: Waukesha County also saw big increases in all three categories. The smallest increase was in pending criminal traffic cases, which were up 365, or 56%. Pending misdemeanor cases rose by 826, or 63%. Its overall increase in all three types of cases was 64%.

Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 127 days; 2020 – 170 days, up 34%.

Brown County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 201

Brown County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 201

Brown County population: 268,470

Biggest changes: Pending felony cases were up by 639, or 39%.

Of note: Pending criminal traffic cases were up by just 53 cases, or 10%.

Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 138 days; 2020 – 182 days, up 32%.

Racine County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Racine County Pending Criminal Cases Year-end, 2020 vs 2019

Racine County population: 197,727

Biggest changes: Pending felony cases were up by 345, or 27%.

Of note: Like Milwaukee County, Racine County saw a decline in pending criminal traffic cases. They were down by 115, or 16%.

​Racine County saw a 9% increase in pending cases of all types, the smallest increase among the five counties.

Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 155 days; 2020 – 169 days, up 9%.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us