Janesville lawyer announces plan to seek judge seat
O’Leary this week announced he will run in April to fill the seat vacated by Rock County Judge James Welker, who will not seek re-election.
Janesville City Council member and attorney Tom McDonald in June announced he will run for Welker’s position.
O’Leary said he is well prepared for the job.
“I’ve seen judges in Rock, Dane, Walworth, Green counties and others,” O’Leary said. “I’ve seen what I consider positive and negative tactics. I’ve got the disposition, knowledge and experience that will allow me to be effective as a judge.”
O’Leary, who lives in Janesville Township, is not new to Janesville politics. He was elected to the Janesville City Council in 1991 and served 12 years. He also has served on city and county committees, including the Janesville Plan Commission from 1995 to 2003, the Janesville Police Department Design Committee and the Rock County Board of Adjustment.
O’Leary also has been on the boards of community groups including Forward Janesville, the Janesville Riverfront Development Committee and the Janesville Industrial Development Board.
That service has taught O’Leary how to gather information to make fact-based decisions, he said.
“In a lot of instances, you have to show patience,” O’Leary said. “You have to be willing to keep an open mind and listen to both sides.”
If elected, O’Leary would work in the same building as his brother, Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary. Harry O’Leary thought about that before he decided to run and sees no potential for conflict.
“I don’t see how in any stretch of the imagination it could be seen that it would create a conflict just because my brother is the district attorney,” Harry O’Leary said.
The O’Learys said their family would not be the first to produce a Rock County lawyer and judge. Judge Daniel Dillon’s son, Duffy, is a Janesville attorney. Former Judge John Roethe also came from a family of locally practicing attorneys, the O’Learys said as examples.
Working with his brother would not make a difference, Harry O’Leary said.
“It’s not my brother that’s making an argument. It’s the law,” Harry O’Leary said.
David O’Leary said the working relationship would not create a conflict of interest because Welker’s Branch 7 currently presides over the court’s civil division. It’s been that way for many years, David O’Leary said.
“I don’t anticipate any conflict of interest whatsoever,” David O’Leary said.
But the judicial assignments are not permanent.
Judges in December will make requests for new branches if they want them. The changes would take place Aug. 1, Daley said.
If someone requested the civil branch, the most senior judge in that branch—Welker in this case—would get bumped, Daley said.
That would leave criminal or juvenile court where cases are prosecuted by David O’Leary and his staff.
“I suspect it might be a conflict, but I just don’t know,” Daley said Friday afternoon. “When it happens, ask me again.”
Jim Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, said he couldn’t think of any similar situations.
The Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge cannot preside over cases in which a brother appears as an attorney, he said.
“It sounds like that would apply,” Alexander said.
Candidate for Rock County judge, Branch 7
Name: Harry C. O’Leary
Address: 2012 N. Granite Drive, Janesville.
Job: Attorney at O’Leary Law office in Janesville for 23 years.
Other elected positions: Janesville City Council for 12 years starting in 1991.
Community service: Has served on the Janesville Plan Commission, the Rock County Board of Review and the Forward Janesville Board. Has been a member of the Elks, the Rock County and Wisconsin bar associations, the Janesville Morning Rotary Club and the Jaycees. Has volunteered as a member of St. William Parish and has been a scoutmaster and youth coach.