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A chance to judge candidates

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ANN MARIE AMES
January 25, 2012
— Anyone hoping to read about a cutthroat debate in front of 100 Rock County attorneys is going to be disappointed.

The six candidates for Rock County judge didn't argue or bicker at Tuesday's Rock County Bar Association forum. They didn't point fingers at each other. They only swore in context.


They were given two minutes each to introduce themselves and a minute to answer questions from a moderator. They also took questions from the association membership.


The candidates are attorneys Harry C. O'Leary, Tom McDonald, Jack Hoag, Tod Daniel, Court Commissioner Barb McCrory and attorney Mike Haakenson. Here are a few of their responses, in the order in which they spoke.


Describe the areas of practice in which you have had the most and least experience.
McDonald: Said he has not worked in the criminal system. His experience is in trial work. He would retain much of his background knowledge, since he's only five years out of law school.
Hoag: Said he is the candidate with "both the greatest amount and widest range of experience."
Daniel: Said his practice by volume is mostly family law followed by criminal defense.

"The least visited courtroom in my experience is probate," Daniel said. "I have an agreement with the clerks. They'll give me coffee if I stay out of there."


McCrory: Said her greatest experience is in family law. Her least is in criminal defense, she said. She is getting experience in criminal cases as a Jefferson County court commissioner presiding over preliminary and probable cause hearings.
Haakenson: Said he has been working in criminal defense since 1989 and as a guardian ad litem since 2001. A guardian ad litem represents children during custody cases or developmentally disabled adults. He does not spend much time doing probate, he said.
O'Leary: Said he has a wide variety of experience as a general practitioner.

"You take what comes in the door. If I have to say I'm short on something, it would be trial litigation, but I don't think that translates into an ineffective judge."


Pro se defense is becoming more and more common. How would you deal with these potentially frustrating cases in which people defend themselves rather than hire attorneys?
O'Leary: "I would give them some leeway, some guidance, but not to the determent of the person they're arguing against."
McDonald: "You can't be their legal advisor, you can't be their attorney. I would encourage people to get lawyers if they can. But if they don't, it's probably because they can't afford them."
Hoag: Said he would want to work to make sure issues in pro se cases were dealt with in the pretrial phase.

"Let's try to back it up. Let's evaluate it, prescreen it. Because once they're in the courtroom, it is unfair to help them against someone who has hired an attorney."


Daniel: Said the legal profession needs to take a more proactive stance to deal with the issue of pro se litigation.

"I recognize and respect a person has the right to represent themselves just as I have the right to pull my own teeth."


McCrory: Said she deals with this issue every day as a court commissioner.

"I tell them we have rules we have to follow. We went to law school to learn them, but you have to follow them."


Haakenson: Said he would explain rules and procedures to pro se litigants at a status hearing or at a pretrial hearing "so they are aware of what they are getting in to and maybe think twice about it."
What would be your style as judge? Would you value punctuality? Humor? Formality?
Daniel: His No. 1 quality would be punctuality, he said.

"I don't think humor is necessarily something that we need in the courtroom, but I don't think we need to think we're at a Victorian funeral or anything."


McCrory: "A lot of the same ways I would run the hearings I have now. I am on time. I do expect the same out of the lawyers."
Haakenson: "I'm probably fairly laid back, but I think I would be more formal on the bench. The citizens need to understand this is an important forum."
O'Leary: A sense of humor can be important to help citizens deal with the stress of being in court, he said.

"Being in court is some of the most intense moments in someone's life, and you need to do whatever you can do to make them deal with it better and feel like they are getting a fair shake."


McDonald: "I think consistency is extremely important. I think it's important to be respectful, but I think there is room for humor in a courtroom. Well placed humor."
Hoag: My intent would be to make the lawyers feel like they are in an environment in which they could do their art and their craft in a productive manner. I would conduct my court as I have conducted myself, trying to be fair to everybody."

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