Two Court Commissioners Vie for Circuit Court Seat in April 1 Election
Milwaukee County judge candidates Cedric Cornwall and Laura Gramling Perez talk about their toughest decisions
The candidates spoke at a Milwaukee Bar Association-sponsored candidate forum last week on topics ranging from their work in the community to the toughest decisions they’ve had to make as court commissioners, judicial officers who are authorized to make decisions in children’s, small claims and criminal cases. Here are excerpts of their comments.
Cedric Cornwall serves as a Milwaukee County Judicial Court Commissioner currently assigned to the Vel. R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center. A graduate of Marquette University Law School, Cornwall has worked in private practice, management for the City of Milwaukee’s Equal Rights Commission and as a public defender. Cornwall is a board member of Marquette University Law School Alumni Association, the Wisconsin Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and Word of Hope Ministries.
■ On his judicial philosophy: “My judicial philosophy really centers around the fact that we have laws in this country and those laws apply to each individual and institution in this country and they apply to each individual equally. We’ve all heard the expression that no one is above the law. That’s essentially my judicial philosophy. In addition, another component or cornerstone of my judicial philosophy is fundamental fairness in terms of individuals who appear before me. I want to make sure that they are treated fairly when they appear before me in court.”
■ On his most difficult decisions: “In terms of difficult cases as a court commissioner, I would say that the cases that we deal with out at children’s court are very difficult. I would also say that as a judicial court commissioner assigned to small claims court we have difficult decisions as well in landlord-tenant cases. You have cases come before you where on the surface it seems pretty cut and dry: You owe money, tenant, you have to pay your rent or you have to leave.
“But then when you look at those cases a little deeper, you realize that there are families involved, there are children involved. And the decision you make when you tell the family, ‘OK, you have two weeks, five days, to remove yourself from that residence,’ those are the types of decisions that really weigh on you as a judicial court commissioner.
“When I was assigned to small claims court handling eviction cases, I would listen to the arguments of the landlords and their counsel, and I would also hear from the tenants. A lot of times, the landlords would make arguments in terms of a dollar-and-cents analysis. I understand that. But at the same time, we’re dealing with individuals; we’re dealing with people. We’re dealing with families.
“What I did was, I applied the law as it was written. And I made my decision based on the facts that were before me. Just as with cases out at children’s court, after you make your decisions, days later, you find yourself rethinking what you’ve decided.”
To learn more about Cedric Cornwall, go to cornwallforjudge.com.
Laura Gramling Perez
Laura Gramling Perez serves as the presiding court commissioner for Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where she supervises 10 court commissioners. A Milwaukee native and graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Perez began her legal career in New York, then worked in private practice in Milwaukee before becoming a court commissioner. Perez helped to found the Milwaukee Veterans Family Law Clinic and the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic.
■ On her judicial philosophy: “I do believe that it is the job of a judicial official, whether a judge or a commissioner, to make decisions according to what the law says. There have been times when I have made decisions from the bench that I personally wished that I did not have to make but that were the decisions that were called for by the precedent or the statute in that case. And I’m certainly willing to do that.”
■ On her most difficult decisions: “As a court commissioner, that’s an easy question to answer because of its difficulty. The hardest decision I think is the one in children’s court to have a child removed, even temporarily, from their parent or grandparent or other guardian. That is a decision that we make in children’s court in connection with delinquency cases and at times in CHIPS [Child in Need of Protection or Services] cases. But we make initial placement decisions most frequently when children are charged with delinquencies.
“There are times when a family will be in court and a child who is very troubled, and perhaps suffering from considerable mental illness, will be involved in violent actions, often involving their own family members as victims. That’s an extremely, extremely difficult situation for any family to find themselves in. I think very often in those situations, parents or grandparents or other caretakers seek to do as any of us parents would want to do—do everything they can to keep their child at home and take care of their child.
“And there are instances when you have to make the difficult decision that that’s just not a safe situation for the family and that the child will be safer, and the family members will be safer, if the child is able to receive services in a place other than their home, at least for the time being.
“That’s a difficult decision to make. And it’s one that you often mull over afterwards and it stays with you for a long time after making it, but it’s the kind of decision that you do have to be prepared to make when it’s appropriate.”
To learn more about Laura Gramling Perez, go to lauraforjudge.com.