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Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Primary Set for Feb. 21

The three candidates make their case

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There are three candidates on the Feb. 21 primary ballot for Branch 17 of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Nelson W. Phillips III was appointed to that branch last fall by Gov. Scott Walker; he is being challenged by Glendale Municipal Court Judge Christopher Lipscomb and Administrative Law Judge Carolina Maria Stark. The top two vote-getters will appear on the April 3 general election ballot. Each candidate appeared at a panel sponsored by the Milwaukee Bar Association. Here are some of their remarks from that panel.

Christopher Lipscomb

Lipscomb has served as a municipal court judge in Glendale for 14 years and has been in private practice for 20 years. He has been a prosecutor in various municipal courts in the area.

Why he's running:
“I think we need a broader level of experience on the circuit court. Too many people on the circuit court—it's not a terrible thing, but it's limiting—seem to be district attorneys or those who have come from large law firms. My problem with that is that while they have very deep experience, it is in limited areas. Judges have to be dealing with things in a broader area, not just what's in front of them.”

The biggest obstacles facing the court:
“People don't realize, but I think the judges in this room understand: We don't control the 2 million things that affect how we run our courtroom effectively. We don't control the input, how many cases come to us. That's controlled by other parties. We don't control the resources that come to us. That's controlled by the other branches of government. Unless somebody knows a way to stop people from coming to court, there's no way to control the input. I try to contact my legislators, my representatives, on the issue of court funding. That's something each of us can do. But within the courtroom, judges have very limited ability to change things.

“I'm seeing that my caseload keeps increasing. I'm seeing that there are more unrepresented defendants. And unlike in the circuit court, I do not have the ability to appoint counsel for them. I'm also seeing more severe cases at the municipal court level, which makes me wonder: If that's what I'm seeing, what kind of cases are they seeing at the circuit court level? … As a judge, about all you can do directly is to try to run your court more efficiently. That's really hard to do when the numbers are there.”

To learn more about Christopher Lipscomb, go to www.promotejudgelipscomb.com.

Nelson W. Phillips III

Phillips was appointed to Branch 17 of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court by Gov. Scott Walker. He has worked as a prosecutor in the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office and in the U.S. Attorney's Office. He also did white collar and civil litigation at Godfrey and Kahn.

Why he is running:
“I want to make a difference. I think I can make an impact and have made an impact in my time on the bench.

“I have a level of expertise I want to share with the community and I have a passion for justice. I have exhibited that passion throughout my time as both a prosecutor, when I had to make fair and ethical charging decisions in prosecutions, as well as with Godfrey and Kahn.

The biggest obstacles facing the court:
“Criminally, resources are an issue. Many times you have defendants coming into court without attorneys and those defendants are not eligible for public assistance, and hopefully I'm doing a great job of assessing their eligibility and I'm doing a great job of leading these cases before me. But when you have a defendant who's not eligible for public assistance, that can be messy at times. …  I do take great care in those cases with those defendants who are sort of in that between area and explain the process. Unfortunately, those cases do take some time. What we can do to take care of those cases is by appointing counsel and working out, as much as we possibly can, financial resources to assist those defendants.

“In the civil realm, access to justice is equally a problem and challenge. Lawsuits take money and they cost quite a bit to prosecute through the system. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—discovery is taking a huge, huge leap, in terms of e-discovery and things of that nature, which causes people to spend quite a bit more money in litigating these cases. I don't really have an answer for that one. It's simply one of the aspects that as a judge you have to address during litigation to make sure that every party is treated fairly and that discovery abuses do not take over the case.”

To learn more about Nelson Phillips, go to www.judgenelsonphillips.com.

Carolina Maria Stark

Stark has been an administrative law judge for five years and has served on the city of Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission for three and a half years.

Why she is running:
“My community engagement, in addition to the proven experience issuing decisions based on the laws in front of me. First and foremost, that's what judges do—issue decisions based on the law. But we all know that the circuit court requires judges to exercise great amounts of discretion, and that discretion needs to be exercised in a manner consistent with community values.”

The biggest obstacles facing the court:
“The first is language access. There are a number of individuals in Milwaukee County who do not use English as their primary or native language. When I was working as a criminal defense attorney, I represented a large number of Spanish-speaking individuals. I had the good fortune of growing up in a bilingual, bicultural household, since my mother is from Colombia, South America. I was dedicated to using that skill in serving the Spanish-speaking community that we have here in Milwaukee.

“I also think that access to legal representation is a significant issue. I've seen that again as an administrative law judge over the last five years in an area where not a lot of attorneys take the unemployment benefit cases. I've walked that line of how do you walk somebody through, how do you give them access to their day in court without stepping over the line to advocate for them.

“I think the third issue is the issue of resources. The high-volume, fast pace that the circuit court has to work in puts a real strain on not only the system, but I think also the individual charged with administering justice. Over the past five years I've honed the skills necessary to be able to kind of reset myself so that the person coming in to the court at 3 or 4 in the afternoon will hopefully have the same fresh face and access to a fair hearing as the person who came in at 8.”

To learn more about Carolina Stark, go to carolinastarkforjudge.com.


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