Family Law/Divorce Client Guide

At Bakke Norman, S.C., we have attorneys experienced in handling divorce and family law matters. We employ skilled legal assistants and paralegals to help you and your attorney with your file and to assure you of the best professional representation. You are encouraged to contact the legal assistant or paralegal regarding any questions about your case if the attorney is not available. A legal assistant or paralegal is not an attorney and is not permitted to give legal advice. However, the legal assistant or paralegal can answer many questions regarding your case. The legal assistant or paralegal will refer questions calling for legal advice to your attorney.

What Do Divorce Attorneys Do?

Your attorney will advise you about the law and help you prepare and present your case which will sometimes involve hiring or consulting with expert witnesses, such as appraisers, accountants or psychologists.

We will keep you advised on court procedures, give you our advice regarding options or decisions you have, and answer your questions. We will help identify and value assets and will work to obtain a fair division for you. If issues arise concerning the value of real estate, business interests, retirement plans or personal property, we will handle the valuation process.

If child support or maintenance (alimony) is a problem, we will analyze available income, consider unrealized earning capacity and evaluate budgets to try to obtain a fair and reasonable result for you.

We will advise you about custody and placement issues and work with counselors or other experts to protect your rights and those of your children.

Can We Represent Both Husband and Wife?

No. An inherent conflict of interest that prevents an attorney from representing both parties to a divorce.

If both husband and wife want to file a joint petition for divorce, we can prepare and file it, but we will represent only one party.

Occasionally, divorcing parties have agreed completely on all issues before a legal action is started. In that event, one party can possibly proceed without legal counsel, risks involved in doing so. The rights and responsibilities that are determined in a divorce are so important that we strongly recommend that each side have separate legal counsel.

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Personal Injury Client Guide

You and Your Personal Injury Claim

At Bakke Norman, S.C., we have attorneys experienced in handling personal injury matters. We employ skilled paralegals and legal assistants to help you and your attorney with your file and to assure you of the best professional representation. You are encouraged to contact the paralegal or legal assistant regarding any questions about your case if the attorney is unavailable. A paralegal or legal assistant is not an attorney and is not permitted to give legal advice. However, the paralegal or legal assistant can answer many questions regarding your case. The paralegal or legal assistant will refer questions calling for legal advice to your attorney.

Initial Information

When you are first interviewed, general information is obtained regarding the incident. A questionnaire that collects and organizes necessary information is provided for you to complete and return to the office as soon as possible, or you may view and download the questionnaire here. We ask you to sign authorization forms. Those forms allow us to gather additional necessary information. For example, we use authorizations to obtain school, work, financial and medical information.

You will receive a Fee Agreement regarding the terms and conditions of payment of attorneys’ fees and costs advanced by Bakke Norman, S.C. The Fee Agreement is to be signed by you and the representative attorney from Bakke Norman, S.C. You will also receive information regarding our billing and collection policies. Costs will be incurred and advances paid during our representation, including such things as the cost for obtaining medical records, doctors’ reports and accident and police reports; investigation, expert witness, filing and process service fees; deposition transcript and court reporter fees; and any other costs incurred during the investigation of the claim and possible lawsuit. We will usually advance these fees and costs and recover them at the conclusion of the case. We will discuss the costs and potential benefits of investigators and experts with you.

You will receive copies of all correspondence received or mailed by Bakke Norman, S.C. relating to your case. Please review these materials. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the attorney, paralegal or legal assistant handling your case. We welcome your telephone calls and e-mails with questions about your case or with new information we need. The telephone is an important tool for the ongoing communication between attorney and client. When your attorney is in court or meeting with another client, your call might be referred to the paralegal or legal assistant assisting on your file. Please be prepared to discuss the matter completely with the paralegal or legal assistant. If you must talk personally to your attorney, leave a detailed message, and your attorney will return the call as soon as possible. We will make every effort to respond to your inquiries promptly.

Please begin a journal or diary (tape recording if you don’t like to write) in which you regularly record how the incident has affected you. In it, you should tell how or where you hurt, the things you used to do that you can’t do anymore, the ways in which you used to relax or enjoy yourself that you can’t anymore, the names of people who have talked with you about your injury and their comments, the expenses you have to pay because of your injuries, and anything else you feel is important for us to know and/or for you to remember. Be complete and thorough! If you have any questions, call the attorney, paralegal, or legal assistant assigned to your case.

Investigation

We will promptly notify the other party’s insurance company that you have retained Bakke Norman, S.C. as your law firm. After they receive our letter of retainer, they should never contact you directly. (If they do, let us know immediately.)

We send letters to all the physicians, hospitals and other health-care providers in your case, requesting medical information regarding injuries. Police officers who might have been involved will be interviewed; witnesses will be contacted; and photographs might be taken. Any necessary information from the director of Internal Revenue, employers, schools or other persons is gathered. We must have your cooperation in helping us gather facts about your case.

Evaluation

It is important for you to know that your case can’t be settled until the damages have all been determined, and all investigation has been completed. Until that basic infor­mation is gathered, a realistic evaluation of your claim is impossible. It can take from several weeks to several months to gather all the necessary information. If a trial becomes necessary, it can take a year or more to complete the case. One of the most difficult requests we must make of you is to have patience.

As soon as our investigation is completed and all necessary information obtained, we will thoroughly evaluate your case, arrive at an appropriate settlement figure and discuss it with you. We will then submit our agreed settlement proposal to the appropriate person.

Starting a Lawsuit

If settlement cannot be reached early, we will consider filing a lawsuit. (Occasionally, it is important to start a lawsuit as soon as possible.) No lawsuit, however, will be started without your permission.

A lawsuit is started by delivering to the other party a document called a Complaint. The Complaint is a writing that tells the person or company who injured you that he, she, or it is being sued because of the accident. That other party is called a defendant. (You are called a plaintiff.) The defendant takes these papers to his or her insurance company, which delivers them to its attorneys. The attorneys then deliver a paper called an Answer to us, and then, the case is at issue.

We want to point out that although a lawsuit might be started, settlement is always possible and is very often made just before, and sometimes even during, the trial.

Discovery

Once the lawsuit has started, both sides have the right to obtain information about the case by several methods.

Interrogatories

Interrogatories are written questions directed to the other party regarding facts about the case or other relevant information. They are used to obtain information in preparation for trial and must be answered under oath by the party to whom they are directed.

Depositions

Depositions are opportunities for an attor­ney to ask opposing parties and witnesses oral questions and get oral answers. The witness deposed is under oath, and a court reporter records the questions and answers. A printed transcript of the questions and answers is prepared, which the attorneys can use at the trial. If your deposition is taken, it is impor­tant that you confer with your attorney before the deposition. Your attorney will want you to view a videotape about depositions and, in addition, will want to discuss with you the facts of your case so you are prepared to answer questions completely and honestly at deposition.

Request for Documents

A request to produce documents is a legal request requiring a party to a lawsuit to produce documents in his or her possession. Such documents might include income tax returns, wage statements, insurance policies, auto damage estimates, and so forth.

Request to Admit

A request for an admission about the truth of a matter relevant to your case might be used to narrow the issues at the time of trial. For example, you might be asked to admit that an asset’s market value is a certain amount, thus eliminating the need to have an expert witness testify at the trial.

We generally use all these methods to help us investigate the facts and refine the issues. Remember, the defendant’s attor­neys also have the right to take testimony and submit interrogatories and demands, so you likely will also be asked to answer questions or produce documents for the other side.

Under Wisconsin laws, there are few secrets in lawsuits of this kind. At any time throughout this period, the possibility of settlement might come up again. We will try to discuss settlement as we move along. If anything concrete occurs in any of these discussions, we will advise you promptly. All parties to Wisconsin civil cases are required to take part in alternative dispute resolution, which generally means a process called mediation. We will discuss all options related to alter­native dispute resolution with you.

Mediation

Almost 20 million lawsuits are filed every year. A very large percentage is settled before trial. But, while only a few suits are tried, the people and businesses involved in litigation—even in a suit that eventually settles—know that the time, expense and emotional impact exact a costly price.

Recently, some courts and law firms have started to emphasize alternative methods more to resolve disputes. One such method is mediation. There are many potential advantages to mediation, including reduced costs, faster resolutions and less emotional stress.

In mediation, the mediator has no authority to settle the case and, under most circumstances, he or she will not let the parties know his or her personal opinion about settlement. The mediator’s role is to guide and assist the parties to fashion their own settlement, serving as a facilitator to help the parties reach the desired goal of a resolution of their conflict.

If both parties are prepared to negotiate and compromise in good faith, mediation is inexpensive and cost effective. Recently, most courts require mediation before a trial is scheduled. The vast majority of cases settle during mediation. If the case does not settle at mediation, it will proceed to trial. However, though the case might not settle during mediation, it could settle up until the trial date.

Trial

The great majority of cases never are tried, though lawsuits are started. Often, however, they are settled just a few days before the trial date. If your case cannot be settled for a fair amount of money, we, with your permission, will proceed to trial. The weeks just before the trial date are spent in detailed and intense preparation of your case. What is expected of you at trial will be explained to you in detail well before your going to the courthouse.

Most often, an injury case such as yours results in a trial with a jury of 12 people from the county where the accident occurred. If neither side requests a jury, the judge assigned to the case will decide. As the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof in this case. Our job, as your law firm, is to prove to a reasonable certainty, by the greater weight of the evidence, that the defendant’s conduct (or lack of it) caused you to be injured. We must also prove what your “damages” are.

The usual damage categories in an injury case are pain, suffering and disability from the date of the accident to the date of settlement or trial, (sometimes called past pain and suffering); past medical expenses; and wages or income lost in that same period (past wage loss). Future damages—for example, future pain, suffering and disability; future medical expenses; and future loss of earnings—can be recovered if we have medical evidence that the injury is perma­nent and will cause problems over time. Other specific damage categories can be claimed in certain cases.

If you have any questions about which damage categories apply to your case, please contact our office. It is our goal that you be totally informed of all impor­tant elements of your case.

Appeal

A word about appeals is in order. In Wisconsin, the losing side in any lawsuit has the right to appeal a trial decision to the Court of Appeals. An appeal is not another trial. It is a written argument to a 3-Judge Court, supported by documents and transcripts. Occasionally, the Court of Appeals decides that oral arguments from the attorneys involved must supplement the written arguments. Appeals can be costly and time consuming. An appeal can add up to a full year (sometimes more) to a case’s final resolution. We will undertake an appeal only after apprising you fully of the benefits and drawbacks of such actions.

Conclusion

We hope you find this information helpful. Remember that the entire staff of Bakke Norman, S.C. is now beginning to work diligently on your case. You will be kept informed of the progress on your case by copies of correspondence and by direct contact by the legal assistant, paralegal and attorney handling your claim. If you ever have a question about your case, do not hesitate to call.

Please also inform this office immediately of any change of your address and/or telephone number, any change of address and/or telephone number of any of the people who know about your accident and/or injuries, or anything you think has a bearing on the case.

We have provided you information in general on how we handle cases such as yours and on some of our expectations of how you might assist our team in working on your case. Please let us know how we are doing regarding the services we provide to you.

SPECIAL PRECAUTION

Do not, under any circumstances,
discuss your case with anyone except members of this office.

Copyright ~ 2015 Bakke Norman, S.C.

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Traffic Violations and Operating While Intoxicated: What You Need to Know

Why hire an attorney ?

At Bakke Norman, S.C., we have attorneys experienced in handling Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) cases and other traffic matters. We employ skilled legal assistants and paralegals to help you and your attorney with your file and to assure you of the best professional representation. You are encouraged to contact the legal assistant or paralegal regarding any questions about your case if the attorney is unavailable. A legal assistant or paralegal is not an attorney and is not permitted to give legal advice. However, the legal assistant or paralegal can answer many questions about your case. The legal assistant or paralegal will refer questions calling for legal advice to your attorney.

What Will My Attorney Do?

Your attorney will advise you about the law and help you prepare and present your case. He or she will keep you advised about the legal proceedings, advise you about options you have or decisions you must make, and answer your questions.

What Does It Cost?

It is difficult to predict the cost of an OWI defense prior to hearing the case’s facts. OWI clients of Bakke Norman, S.C. are charged for legal services based on the projected time that will be spent on the file, the factual and legal problems involved in the case, the experience and expertise of the attorney working on your file, the number of previous operating-while-intoxicated convictions, and whether a chemical test refusal or commercial driver’s license problem is involved. We normally charge a flat-rate fee, payable when we begin work on your file.

During our representation, we might advance some fees and costs for you, including such items as payment for police or medical reports, transcripts of hearings, process server or expert witness’ fees, and investigator’s expenses. We will discuss projected costs with you at the beginning of your case.

We must have an agreement with you about fees and costs before any work starts. If, for any reason, you do not completely understand and agree about the fees to be paid, please discuss this with your attorney immediately.

Telephone Calls and E-Mail

We welcome your telephone calls and e-mail with questions about your case or with new information we need. When you attorney is in court or meeting with another client, your call might be referred to the legal assistant or paralegal assisting on your file. We will make every effort to respond to your inquiries promptly.

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Estate Planning Client Guide

Estate Planning Attorneys: Who Are They? What Do They Do? How Much Will They Charge?

At Bakke Norman, S.C., we have attorneys experienced in handling estate-planning matters. We employ skilled legal assistants and paralegals to help you and your attorney with your file and to assure you of the best professional representation. You are encouraged to contact the legal assistant or paralegal regarding any questions about your case if the attorney is not available. A legal assistant or paralegal is not an attorney and is not permitted to give legal advice. However, the legal assistant or paralegal can answer many questions regarding your case. The legal assistant or paralegal will refer questions calling for legal advice to your attorney.

What Do Estate Planning Attorneys Do?

Your attorney will advise you about the law, assist you in determining how the law applies to your estate and prepare the documents necessary for your estate plan. Depending on your estate’s size and complexity, other experts might be needed in developing your estate plan. For example, accountants, appraisers and other attorneys on our staff might be consulted regarding complex business, tax or appraisal issues. Our attorneys and staff are committed to working with you in preserving your assets and in designing an estate plan that meets your objectives.

Whom Do We Represent?

Generally, the attorney represents both spouses. The law gives spouses certain rights as well as certain obligations. In some cases, the rights of each spouse might conflict. For example, in a second marriage situation, there might be a conflict between the interests of a husband and wife and treatment of their children from a prior marriage. When potential conflict problems arise, we will work with you in dealing with these problems and explain to you any problems or concerns we identify.

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Probate Client Guide

Probate What Is It?

Probate is a specific legal process, but the word probate also means many things to many people. In general, probate is the term used for the legal process by which a deceased person’s final affairs are put in order; their bills are paid; and their assets are transferred. It can be very informal, or it can require court appearances, depending on the estate’s complexity.

Probate in its various forms has been around for centuries. Although probate exists for many reasons, the following are perhaps the most important reasons why probate might be necessary.

  • Protect the deceased’s interests
  • Protect dependants/family
  • Protect heirs and beneficiaries
  • Protect legitimate creditors
  • Defend against illegitimate claims
  • Transfer legal title of property
  • Settle deceased’s affairs

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Alternative Dispute Resolution Client Guide

About 20 million lawsuits are filed every year. A very large percentage is settled before trial. But, although only a few suits are tried, the people and businesses involved in litigation—even in a suit that eventually settles—know that the time, expense and emotional impact exact a costly price.

Historically, attorneys have tried to settle cases before trial by negotiation. Sometimes, this involves a formal face-to-face meeting with attorneys and their clients, and other times, it involves a less formal discussion of offers and demands by mail or telephone. The new rules that follow now include “direct negotiation” as a formal ADR method. This does not change the age-old negotiation practice, except now, the judge can order the parties to engage in direct negotiation. Direct, face-to-face negotiation between the parties, without the use of a third party, involves the exchange of offers and counteroffers and a mutual discussion of the strengths and weak­nesses of each party’s position. This method is usually most effective if skilled and knowledgeable counsel represent the parties and if both have an incentive to reach an agreed settlement.

An Alternative to a Lawsuit

Courts and law firms have started to put more emphasis on formal alternative methods to resolve disputes. The wide variety of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are collectively referred to as ADR. There are many potential advantages to ADR, including reduced costs, faster resolutions, less emotional stress, the ability to construct solutions outside the courts’ authority and, in some cases, the opportunity to preserve personal or business relationships that a trial might shatter.

ADR occurs in many different contexts and encompasses various specific methods. ADR might be mandated as the settlement option in a written contract—construction contracts and securities brokers’ agreements frequently contain a mandatory arbitration clause. Even if there is no contract requiring arbitration or other ADR effort, ADR can be agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court. Party-initiated ADR can happen at any time and can use any method and procedure the parties find helpful. There are two basic types of court-sponsored ADR. The first occurs early in the legal process and is designed to avoid many common procedural steps and costs. Most court-ordered ADR occurs much later in the legal process, frequently after discovery is completed and final trial preparation has started. This last use of ADR is currently most common in Wisconsin, although the other exam­ples are rapidly gaining acceptance nationwide.

ADR methods include binding arbitration, nonbinding arbitration, mediation, summary trial, moderated settlement conference and a number of other creative procedures designed to facilitate a fair and reasonable settlement. Any method might have several variations, as is discussed later. In almost every context, the parties can use any standard method they choose or invent their own procedure designed to meet their unique needs.

ADR can be conducted with or without attorney representation on either side. If attorneys represent participants, the ADR sessions can involve the attorneys, or the parties can conduct them without counsel present. ADR is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition. The method and setting should be carefully selected to optimize the chances of a successful resolution of all disputed issues.

Cost savings by using ADR will depend on the complexity of the case, the timing of the ADR efforts and the method used. Savings also depend on the successful conclusion of a settlement. An early ADR resolution can save months of attorney fees, preparation costs and emotional stress. Even if ADR is used just before trial, the saving of attorney fees and costs can be substantial if a trial is avoided. Equally important are the nonmonetary benefits that can come from an opportunity to construct a settle­ment of your own design.

It is important to note that cost savings are not always realized. In some instances, the cost of the ADR procedure might equal or exceed the cost of litigation. More importantly, if time and resources are expended on an ultimately unsuccessful ADR attempt, the ADR costs are added to the litigation costs, thereby increasing, not decreasing, total costs. To maximize the probability of cost savings, both parties should be genuinely interested in an early and fair resolution of the dispute, and the type of ADR, as well as the facilitator, should be carefully chosen to fit the needs of the situation.

Typically, the parties share the cost of the ADR process equally, but that can vary by contract or by other agreement.

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Who are you to bring this lawsuit? No standing? case dismissed!

Highway J Citizens Group v. Village of Richfield – After the Village approved the annexation of some property from the Town of Polk into the Village, a group of property owners, some from the Town and some from the Village, but none from the annexed land, sued the Village to declare the annexation invalid because the annexed property was not contiguous to the Village, as required by statute. They claimed the annexed land was essentially a “balloon on a string” and not truly contiguous under the law.

However, the court did not reach the merits of their argument. Instead the court ruled that the plaintiff property owners did not have standing to sue the Village. Although the property owners tried to show individual and unique harm to themselves caused by the annexation, in fact they were not directly affected by the annexation – in other words, this was essentially none of their business. In courts, standing asks the question “who are you to bring this lawsuit?” Our laws generally do not permit a person to bring a lawsuit unless they have some pretty direct connection to the issues. In the case of a Village action, individual taxpayers generally do not have standing to sue over legislative acts of their elected officials, simply on the basis of being taxpayers. They must have something more direct that takes them out of the greater class of “everyone” and gives them some special interest in the case. In this case, the court ruled that the property owners had no direct legal interest in the annexation. Case dismissed.

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Vacating Alleys and Standing to Sue

In an opinion recommended for publication, Smerz v. Delafield Town Board, the appellate court upheld a decision by the circuit court allowing the Delafield Town Board to vacate an alley, pursuant to Wisconsin Statute 66.1003(3). The plaintiffs, James Smerz, Warren Hornik, and Cheryl Hornik, had sought a judgment in circuit court that the Town had no authority to vacate the alley, and that they would be harmed by the vacation. Their main argument was that since a different statute, Chapter 236 (which concerns platting and subdividing), expressly gave counties the power to vacate alleys in platted subdivisions but did not mention towns, that a town could not vacate an alley in a recorded plat. The circuit court denied their claim. First of all, the court held that the statutes were both permissive, and not mutually exclusive. Second, since the plaintiffs’ properties did not abut the portion of the alley that was being vacated, they had no standing to bring a lawsuit against the town. The appeals court upheld the circuit court on both grounds.

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Municipal Collective Bargaining

Municipal Law Alert Special Edition, March 2011

We are publishing and distributing this Special Edition of the Bakke Norman Municipal Law Alert to discuss the Amended Budget Adjustment Bill (Bill) signed into law by Governor Walker on March 11, 2011. Ending a three-week stalemate, the Senate passed the Bill by removing certain “non-fiscal” items. The law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, can be viewed at: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/data/acts/11Act10.pdf. While the amended version of the Bill is 138 pages long and touches on a number of areas, in this article, we focus on the provisions affecting municipal employers. In general, the Bill impacts municipal employers in two ways.

First, it limits the rights of municipal employees to collectively bargain under the Municipal Employment Relations Act (Act).

Second, it changes health and pension contributions that may be made by municipal employers on behalf of their employees.

1. LIMITATIONS ON BARGAINING.

◊ Municipal and state public employees, including school teachers and employees of the Wisconsin Technical College System, are general employees and would be subject to limited bargaining under the Bill. The Bill only preserves full collective bargaining rights for public safety employees. Generally, public safety employees include law enforcement officers and fire fighters.

◊ The Bill limits collective bargaining with general employees to the topic of wages, eliminating the ability to bargain on other conditions or employment. Further, wages only means total base wages, excluding other wage-related issues like overtime, premium pay, merit pay, performance pay, supplemental compensation, pay schedules, and automatic pay progressions. Unless approved by referendum (described below), wages are limited to increases in the consumer price index (CPI). The percentage increase is determined by comparing the proposed new total base wages for all authorized positions against the total base wages for authorized positions 180 days before the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement. As applied to bargaining groups with only a few members, this would seem to require a referendum for any new position.

◊ There is a new provision added to Chapter 66 which prohibits wage increases in total base wages by more than CPI. This new provision is not clearly written, so it is difficult to determine its impact. We have discussed this issue with both the League of Municipalities and the Town’s Association. After those discussions, we think the best interpretation is that it does NOT apply except to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Thus, a municipality may raise its total base wages by more than the CPI for those general employees who are not members of a collective bargaining unit. This, however, still leaves open the issue of how this impacts municipalities to whom this provision is applicable when they add new employees.

◊ No collective bargaining can occur between a local governmental unit or school district and its employees, except as allowed under Act (as amended by the Bill).

◊ The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) must conduct an annual election to certify the representative of any collective bargaining unit that contains a general municipal employee.

◊ Collective bargaining agreements must be terminated as soon as legally possible and employees must vote to certify or decertify their representatives. Notwithstanding the dates provided above for unit certification, that vote must be held in April, 2011.

◊ Labor organization dues cannot be deducted from the earnings of a general municipal employee or supervisor.

◊ A general municipal employee may remain a member of a collective bargaining unit without having to pay labor organization dues.

◊ Fair-share and maintenance of membership agreements would not be allowed for represented general employees.

◊ The Bill repeals a number of existing provisions requiring compulsory, final and binding arbitration if negotiation and other settlement options for the bargaining process fail. The Bill also repeals WERC’s authority to adopt rules pertaining to the conduct of arbitration for general municipal employees.

◊ Existing law generally prohibited strikes by municipal employees, except in limited circumstances. The limited circumstances are repealed by the Bill.

◊ Except for the initial collective bargaining agreement between the parties and except as the parties otherwise agree, every collective bargaining agreement covering general municipal employees must be for a term of one year and may not be extended. [Note that the clause “and except as the parties otherwise agree,” which is in existing law, was intended to be stricken under the Bill.] It is unclear whether “except as the parties otherwise agree” will prevail over the new rule that only wages (not term of contract) are subject to bargaining.

◊ The Bill sets a July 1, 2011 deadline for all municipalities without a civil service system to establish either a grievance system or a civil service system. That system must contain: (1) a grievance procedure that addresses employee terminations; (2) employee discipline; and (3) workplace safety.

◊ Any grievance procedure a municipality creates must contain: (1) a written document specifying the process that a grievant and an employer must follow; (2) a hearing before an impartial hearing officer; and (3) an appeal process in which the highest level of appeal is the governing body.

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