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Three vie for 4th District Court of Appeals judgeship

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 13, 2010

Voters in 24 counties will narrow the field of candidates for the 4th District Court of Appeals in Tuesday's elections.


Voters will vote for one candidate in the nonpartisan election. The top two vote-getters will advance to the April 6 election.


The district includes Rock, Green, Dane and Jefferson counties.


Wisconsin's appeals courts are tasked with fixing errors made in local circuit courts.


Candidates Brian Blanchard, Ramona Gonzalez and Ed Leineweber—none of them an incumbent—were asked to respond to these questions. Answers were edited for brevity.


Q: What is your view of the role of the Court of Appeals?


-- Blanchard said making the court more visible to the public is important, and he would work to have oral arguments before the court moved to courthouses in counties other than Dane.


"And, most importantly, because citizens' lives, families, and businesses are affected by the Court of Appeals, if elected I would … (work) to shorten the time between filing of notices of appeals and a final decision, so that cases are less often held open for extended periods," Blanchard said.


-- Gonzalez said moving the court around the district would not be a good use of tax dollars during tough economic times. Gonzalez proposes instead that oral arguments be made available on the Internet.


"I would also like to see the courts use the Internet to reach out to children's, civic and service groups to shine the light on the work of the court," she said.


-- Leineweber said the appeals courts are virtually unknown to the public, and he would work to change that.


Leineweber claims to be the first candidate to call for oral arguments being held at courthouses around the district so the public and local news media could attend.


Leineweber said the court also should hold oral arguments more frequently than it does now. He estimated only 2 percent to 3 percent of cases are ever argued orally.


Q: What in your background makes you the best choice?


n Blanchard cites his experience in civil and criminal law at the trial and appellate levels and his impartiality—a quality all the candidates mentioned.


"Throughout my career, I've focused on applying the law without fear or favor, pursuing cases based on where the facts lead and what the law dictates," Blanchard said. "My successful investigation and prosecution of political corruption helped change Wisconsin law and government."


Blanchard noted his bi-partisan endorsements from law enforcement, community leaders and elected officials, which he said are more numerous than for the other candidates.


-- Gonzalez' family fled from the Dominican Republic to the United States when she was 8, she said, because of threats from the dictator Rafael Trujillo. That experience impressed on her the need for the rule of law and for impartial judiciary, she said.


"That's really my main focus ... Every individual who comes before me is treated with the same respect, no matter who they are," she said.


Gonzalez said other parts of her story, including growing up during the tumultuous 1960s in Chicago and being a person of color, add to that perspective.


-- Leineweber stressed his experience, from his broad-based law practice to his work as a prosecutor and then as a judge over 33 years as a lawyer.


"There's nothing that comes before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals that I haven't had personal, practical experience, with," Leineweber said.


Leineweber said he also has worked in the appeals court, hearing about 12 cases and writing an opinion through a judicial exchange program.


Leineweber cites the fact that he's not from Dane County and lives in a rural area. The 4th District Appeals Court's judges have been almost exclusively from a city and from Dane County, he said.


Q: What one quality sets you apart from your opponents?


n Blanchard said that's for voters to decide, and he doesn't want to engage negative campaigning.


"I believe voters want judges who have the experience, the independence and the integrity to apply the law fairly and to make decisions based on the facts and what the law dictates," Blanchard said.


Blanchard also mentioned his endorsement from law enforcement, including these from Rock County: District Attorney David O'Leary, Sheriff Robert Spoden, Judge Michael Fitzpatrick, and attorneys Thomas Basting Sr., Steve Caya and Mark Kopp.


-- Gonzalez cites what she calls her "balanced perspective." She said she does not accept endorsements. She would not attend a private interview with the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the statewide teachers union, because it might give the impression of a hidden agenda.


Similarly, Gonzalez said that when she first ran for circuit court judge against a district attorney, her opponent gathered law enforcement to his cause, a practice she rejects.


"I take offense to some of that because the courts are for everybody; they're not just for one side or the other," she said.


-- Leineweber claims the "broadest, deepest practical experience." He notes Blanchard has never been a judge, and Judge Gonzalez has never been a prosecutor.


Gonzalez said: "I don't think you have to sit in a DA's office to be able to understand that perspective." She added that she has criminal experience both as a judge and as a defense attorney.


Blanchard said: "Appellate courts need a mix of experienced trial lawyers and experienced trial judges, and my years of experience working in all areas of law make me well qualified for the court."


THE CANDIDATES

Name: Brian Blanchard


Age: 51


Home: Madison


Occupation: Dane County district attorney since 2000. Assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago from 1990 to 1997, after which he joined a large Madison law firm. Also has worked as a law clerk to a United States Appeals Court judge and a reporter for the Miami Herald.


Community service: Board member, Wisconsin District Attorney's Association; former chair, Dane County Coordinated Response to Domestic Violence; member of both state and county task forces on the problem of disproportionate minority confinement. Member and past chairman of the Dane County's Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence.


Elected offices: Dane County District Attorney


***


Name: Ramona A. Gonzalez


Age: 53


Home: La Crosse


Occupation: Circuit court judge for La Crosse County for 14 years. Formerly in private law practice in La Crosse, since 1981.


Community service: Numerous presentations to children and youth and educational organizations; presentations to numerous other community organizations, including La Crosse Area Hmong Association and American Legion; active with Rotary Club and YWCA, Numerous presentations in various international forums on civil aspects of international child abduction; numerous presentations around the country on domestic violence and sexual assault.


Elected offices: La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge


***


Name: Edward E. Leineweber


Age: 61


Home: Lone Rock


Occupation: Circuit court judge for Richland County for the past 12 years. Formerly city attorney for Richland Center and in private law practice for 21 years.


Community service: Longtime Kiwanis member; board member of most boards in his community at one time or another, including Friends of the Little Brown Church and Passages, a program for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault; served on the state Supreme Court's Policy and Planning Advisory Committee; member of Wisconsin Judicial Council, where he is chairman of the evidence and civil procedure committee.


Elected offices: Richland County district attorney, 1987-1993, and circuit court judge.



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