Under Wisconsin law, a Court Commissioner cannot decide a contested eviction action — that must be decided by a judge. However a court commissioner can preside over and decide a hearing on a landlord’s 2nd and 3rd causes for action for money damages. Typically this includes claims for past due rent, physical damages to the rental property or holdover damages.
In Milwaukee County, due to the large number of cases, if a tenant diputes the landlord’s claims for damages, the matter must first be heard by a Court Commissioner. The Court Commissioner will issue a determination based on the evidence presented. If either the landlord or the tenant does not agree with the decision of the Court Commissioner, either party has the aoutomatic right to request a de novo hearing before the circuit court judge.
De novo literally translates to “anew;” “afresh;” or ”a second time.”
A de novo hearing is essentially a “do over” — the parties have the opportunity to present their evidence over again to the judge. They are not restricted to the evidence that they presented in the prior hearing before the court commissioner. New evidence can be presented or old evidence can be removed.
De novo hearings are often referred to incorrectly as “appeals.” A de novo hearing is an opportunity to redo your case. An appeal is a review of a lower court’s decision for error.
A de novo hearing is a “second kick at the cat,” if you will.
NOTE: I currently own a cat. I have had cats as pets in the past. I love cats. By using the above phrase “a second kick at the cat” I am not suggesting or condoning the hurting of a cat. No cat’s were harmed in the writing of this blog post.
Above is a video clip from a seminar that I presented last year about de novo hearings.