OZAUKEE PRESS OP ED: Relief and lessons to learn

This editorial is being written before Tuesday’s local judicial election.

Yet we can confidently write this: By the time this edition of the newspaper is printed, voters will have elected a legal professional who is determined to restore respect to Branch II of the Ozaukee

County Circuit Court with fair and efficient administration of justice in cooperation with colleagues in the county court system.

Voters were fortunate on Tuesday. Both candidates were qualified and neither showed any sign of having a political agenda.

When the winner assumes the bench on Aug. 1, Joseph Voiland’s six-year term will have ended and his false accusations of criminal conduct by his fellow officials of the Ozaukee County court system, the discord and dysfunction sowed in the Justice Center by this hostile behavior and the uneven and costly operation of his court will be just a dark chapter of the county’s judicial history.

A bright, new day is in the offing for the court system. Still, a reckoning is in order. The lessons of the Voiland experience need to be acknowledged and learned.    

The primary lesson is that there is a reason judicial elections are non-partisan. Politics are the enemy of choosing judges in the way the authors of the Wisconsin Constitution intended, which is by election based on candidates’ ability and commitment to impartially and intelligently interpret and apply the law.

Voiland and his corps of activist supporters exploited the political climate of the county to defeat a highly qualified incumbent. The moment they made Judge Tom Wolfgram’s signature on a Scott Walker recall petition the sole issue of their campaign, the 2013 Circuit Court election had nothing to do with the qualifications of the candidates and everything to do with politics.

Culpability for this perversion of nonpartisan judicial selection goes well beyond Voiland. Republican office holders, eager to punish a judge who had the temerity to make a gesture of support (as a private citizen) for the recall of a Republican governor, flocked to embrace the Voiland candidacy with their endorsements and campaign support. It was a decision many were to regret, perhaps with embarrassment.

Voters, too, have something to learn from this lesson. It’s understandable that citizens who supported the then-governor could be perturbed by learning that a judicial candidate had signed a Walker recall petition, yet that is hardly a license to ignore or discount the widely respected record of an incumbent known for fair, well reasoned and legally sound decisions. The issues in the recall election had no relevance to the work of the Circuit Court and should not have determined the outcome in 2013.

No factors even remotely like that intruded in the 2019 election. Instead, voters were given a choice between two serious, though eager and optimistic, lawyers with differing but solid legal résumés who asked for votes based on their training and experience, judicial philosophy, commitment to fairness and impartiality and recognition of the need to carry out their duties with respect for their fellow court officials and the dignity of the courts.

A new day indeed.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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