Wisconsin Legal Reform in Peril

March 16, 2018

When Governor Walker addressed Wisconsin legislators on January 30, he urged them to “get it done” on legal reform. He was referring to a comprehensive omnibus reform bill that promised to improve the Badger State’s lawsuit climate.

That was the bill he wanted to sign. But if the plaintiffs’ bar gets its way, it won’t even reach his desk.

Since January, Democrats and plaintiffs’ bar-friendly Republicans in both the Assembly and the Senate have progressively stripped AB 773 of many of its effective provisions. Their latest attempt to derail the legislation came yesterday, when it passed out of Senator Van Wanggard’s Senate Judiciary Committee.

Given that over 40% of Senator Wanggaard’s 2017 contributions came from trial lawyers, it was no surprise that he introduced an amendment to scuttle the bill. Mirroring the recommendations of the plaintiffs’ bar, Senator Wanggaard paired AB 773 with an amendment removing a provision establishing reasonable rules for preserving electronically stored information (ESI), a reform meant to reduce the soaring expenses associated with storing ever-growing quantities of ESI.

Beyond obstructing the ESI reform, Senator Wanggaard’s amendment has the potential to kill the bill entirely, given that the Assembly would be unlikely to come back to the floor this session to concur on the legislation as amended by the Senate.

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform urges Wisconsin Senators to vote against Senator Wanggaard’s amendment, and vote instead to pass AB 773 as is. While the plaintiffs’ bar has managed to weaken it, the bill still contains important provisions on transparency when third parties invest in lawsuits, plaintiffs’ and defendants’ right to appeal class certifications, and safeguards on third party audits of unclaimed property. Alongside the ESI provision, these legal reforms would allow the state legislature to salvage meaningful progress in improving Wisconsin’s civil justice system.