The Third Branch
Atty. Jeremiah C. Van Hecke
Van Hecke new head of Judicial Commission
Atty. Jeremiah C. Van Hecke took over the role of executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission on Aug. 28. Van Hecke succeeds Atty. James C. Alexander, who retired after serving as executive director since 1990 (see separate story above).
Van Hecke said he had the opportunity to see Alexander speak at the most recent Judicial College. He said it was inspiring to see how he interacted with the judges.
"Jim did his job well," Van Hecke said. "I'm learning everything I can from him."
Van Hecke previously served as an assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County, and worked in private practice in Milwaukee and Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and his law degree from Tulane Law School.
The Judicial Commission is responsible for investigating and prosecuting claims of misconduct against judges and justices. The Commission is comprised of a Court of Appeals judge, a circuit court judge, and two attorneys all appointed by the Supreme Court, as well as five non-lawyers appointed by the governor.
Van Hecke said he is excited to work with the Commission, whose role is to protect the integrity of the judicial system.
"I can't emphasize enough the importance of creating greater awareness of appropriateness of judicial conduct," Van Hecke said.
Van Hecke said he believes it will be challenging to be the public face of a body that handles complaints against judges – complaints that sometimes can be very high-profile. But he emphasized that every case requires taking a step back, looking at the judicial conduct code, and examining all the facts.
"I welcome the challenge," he said. "I'm excited and humbled by the Commission's faith in me."
Governor appoints Bitney in Barron County
Judge Michael Bitney
Gov. Scott Walker appointed former Washburn County District Atty. Michael Bitney to fill the vacancy on the Barron County Circuit Court created by the retirement of Judge Timothy M. Doyle in July.
Bitney has been a district attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he worked for seven years as a private practitioner. He said he believes his experience as a prosecutor as well as a defense attorney, along with his life experience, including raising three teenagers, will help him in his new role.
In Washburn County, Bitney served 11 years as a volunteer firefighter, a position he had to resign once he changed counties to take the bench. Bitney said it was incredibly difficult to leave his fellow firefighters, but St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward F. Vlack III, who sought him out at the Judicial College because he also serves as a volunteer firefighter, assured him, "once a firefighter, always a firefighter."
Prior to his swearing-in on Aug. 29, Bitney was able to attend the Judicial College and spent time being mentored by long-serving judges. He said two key pieces he took away from the Judicial College are the importance of safeguarding access to justice, and the importance of ensuring fairness in the courtroom by rendering fair and impartial decisions.
Bitney said he also hopes to expand treatment courts in Barron County (the county already has an adult drug court), and enhance public safety by incorporating effective justice strategies that help to address the root causes of crime.