The Third Branch
Editor’s note: This edition of The Third Branch includes articles on the retirements of Dane County Circuit Court Judge John C. Albert; St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Howard W. Cameron; Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge J. Mac Davis; Deputy Chief Judge Michael W. Hoover, District III Court of Appeals; and Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Taggart. Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Bonnie L. Gordon retired in December after 20 years on the bench. Upcoming editions will feature retirement articles on Adams County Circuit Court Judge Charles A. Pollex, Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Daniel S. George, Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge William D. Johnston, Racine County Circuit Court Judge Wayne J. Marik, Rock County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth W. Forbeck, Sawyer County Circuit Court Judge Gerald L. Wright, Sheboygan County Circuit Court Judge Terence T. Bourke, and Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge James R. Kieffer.
Judge John C. Albert
Dane County Circuit Court
Judge John C. Albert
Dane County Circuit Court Judge John C. Albert distinctly remembers the morning in 2011 when District Court Administrator Gail Richardson walked into his office with a grin on her face and asked him, “What are you going to do?”
Richardson was referring to the standoff in the Capitol building between protesters and Department of Administration (DOA) officials over their continued presence in the building, including some who camped out overnight and refused to leave.
After DOA issued a new policy about access to the building, the dispute landed in Albert’s Branch 3 courtroom.
The case, involving Capitol protests over legislation known as Act 10, became one of the most high-profile cases Albert presided over during his 26 years on the bench. He plans to retire in April.
After hearing three days of testimony, Albert issued an order allowing protesters in the building during normal hours, but prohibiting them from staying after hours and overnight.
“My intent is to facilitate the reopening of the Capitol consistent with the free assembly and free speech provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution as well as the parallel provisions of the U.S. Constitution,” Albert wrote in a letter he released following his order. “Civil disobedience is always a citizen’s option but understandably brings consequences to those exercising that right.”
Albert was first appointed in 1999 by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson. He had previously worked in private practice and served as a staff attorney for the Legal Service Center of Dane County. He is a graduate of UW-Madison and UW Law School.
Albert has served on the National Conference of State Trial Judges and the Subcommittee on Juror Selection and Treatment. He also partnered with three human service agencies to receive a federal grant to develop and support a supervised visitation center to Dane County for safe visitations and exchanges.
Albert, who served as presiding judge for the juvenile division, worked to switch Child in Need of Protection and/or Services cases from the overloaded district attorney’s office to the corporation counsel’s office, which he said has done a wonderful job.
He said one of the biggest changes he has witnessed during his time on the bench is the domestic violence and harassment injunction legislation.
“It has advanced us years in terms of tools to deal with these delicate and complicated types of cases,” he said.
Albert said he will miss working with pro se divorce clients. He said he enjoyed taking the time to help them work through their issues when they couldn’t afford attorneys.
“That’s the biggest test of judging,” he said. “It’s easy if you have two family lawyers. But you have to do it all for the pro se clients.”
In his retirement, Albert said he plans to go back to private practice and do some collaborative divorce work. He also hopes to get in some hunting and fishing.
Judge Howard W. Cameron
St. Croix County Circuit Court
Judge Howard W. Cameron
St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Howard W. Cameron said he will miss his colleagues, both in his county and around the state. He retired March 4.
When Cameron attended his first Judicial College after being elected to the bench in 2008, he and a few other judges began a tradition of going out to breakfast in the mornings. He said over the years, the group has grown, as the judges meet in the lobby in the morning and head to a local restaurant where they push three or four tables together.
“I look upon it as an honor to be a judge,” he said. “I’m amazed I had the opportunity to do this.”
Cameron said he has tried to do a good job while on the bench, and has done his best to meet the challenge of keeping up with new rulings and changes to the law. He praises the Circuit Court Automation Programs (CCAP) and the judicial dashboard for helping judges to keep up with work. He said CCAP’s ability to keep improving the system has been a great thing for judges.
The increased use of evidence-based practices in judicial decision making has also been incredibly beneficial, Cameron said.
He said he has enjoyed handling adoptions more than anything.
“Some people are adopting a special needs child, or their first child after wanting a child for years,” he said. “It really gives you a great feeling.
Cameron has served on the Uniform Bond Committee. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from UW-Madison, and had previously served as a public defender, a child support attorney in Barron County, and in private practice. Before receiving his law degree, he taught high school for six years. He said being a judge and being a high school teacher each had its own set of joys and challenges, but in high school the people you are dealing with are in the process of growing and changing, perhaps creating an additional challenge
Cameron said he looks forward to getting outside and playing this summer. He also plans to travel and continue serving as a deacon at his church in Hudson. He also hopes to do some reserve work, which will have an added benefit of letting him keep up with those Judicial College breakfasts.
Judge J. Mac Davis
Waukesha County Circuit Court
Judge J. Mac Davis
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge J. Mac Davis will not seek reelection and plans to retire at the end of his term on July 31.
Davis was first elected to the circuit court in 1990. In 1996, he stepped down to run for a seat in Congress, but returned to the circuit court when he won election to the Branch 7 bench after the retirement of the late Judge Clair H. Voss in 1997. Davis was reelected in 2003 and 2009.
In 2006, Davis was appointed by the Supreme Court to serve as the chief judge of the Third Judicial District. In 2009, his fellow chief judges chose him to serve as the “chief of the chiefs,” or chair of the Committee of Chief Judges.
Davis is a graduate of UW-Madison and University of Michigan Law School. Prior to taking the bench, he worked in private practice, and from 1983-90 served as a Wisconsin state senator.
While Davis said he has presided over many interesting cases, his proudest moments have not necessarily been in the courtroom. He has served as chair of the Waukesha County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), which is one of the state’s first collaborative justice system teams and will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year. In 2007 the CJCC worked to establish a Day Report Center to deal with overcrowding in the county’s Huber facility. In 2011, the CJCC received a federal grant to create a new drug court program in the county.
Over his judicial career, Davis has served on the Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee, the Legislative Committee of the Judicial Conference, PPAC, the Waukesha County Bench-Bar Liaison Committee, the Wisconsin Trial Judges Association board, and as a chair of the 2003 Wisconsin Judicial Conference. In 2008, he was a presidential nominee for the U.S. District Court.
One of the biggest changes Davis said he has observed during his time in the judicial system is the increase in technology. He said the day he took the bench was the first day personal computers were issued to judges. Davis himself helped move the shift towards technology along when he created TaxCalc, a computer program that helps judges and lawyers calculate child support and maintenance payments in divorce cases in 1990. Davis annually updates and provides the program free of charge and offers instruction on the program as part of the Judicial College programming.
Davis said he will miss seeing his staff after his retirement, as well as the attorneys in the courtroom, “not all, but most.”
He said he hopes to do some reserve judge and mediation work, as well as travel more, both overseas and to visit his four grandchildren on the east coast.
Deputy Chief Judge
Michael W. Hoover
District III Court of Appeals
Deputy Chief Judge Michael W. Hoover
Deputy Chief Judge Michael W. Hoover, District III Court of Appeals, said he will miss the give and take of working with his colleagues when he retires at the end of his term in July.
“The whole experience has been rewarding and challenging,” Hoover said.
“I have had the privilege to pursue an honorable career and the honor to work with some of the most capable legal minds in the state in the Court of Appeals, and more specifically in District III.”
Hoover was elected to the Court of Appeals in 1997. He had previously served as a circuit court judge in Marathon County since 1988.
Only a year after taking the circuit court bench, Hoover presided over his first intentional homicide case. The trial of Lori Esker, which would become known as the “Dairy Princess Case,” received national media attention. Esker, a Marathon County Dairy Princess and UW-River Falls student, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Lisa Cihaski. The prosecutor, now Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Gregory E. Grau, argued that jealousy was the motive behind Esker strangling Cihaski, who was dating Esker’s former boyfriend. The story would even inspire a 1995 made-for-TV movie, “Midwest Obsession.”
Hoover said the time he spent in juvenile court with juvenile offenders was the most challenging and emotionally draining part of being on the trial court bench. He said while there, he tried to make a positive difference in the lives of those who appeared before him.
Soon after moving from the circuit court to the Court of Appeals, Hoover said he proposed the idea of electronic filing of briefs, and continued to promote the idea over the next few years. He gives credit to the late Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Clerk of Court David Schanker for helping the project gain traction.
“He really took the ball and ran with it,” Hoover said of Schanker.
In 2009, the appellate courts began receiving briefs electronically, a move Hoover believes has promoted efficiency in the handling of appeals.
Hoover said he and the other judges in District III have noticed an increase in the difficult cases that come before them. He speculates that has a lot to do with the increase in dispute resolution and mediation.
“So many cases that were tried and later appealed are falling away,” he said. “A lot of the ‘mill-run’ cases we used to fold-in are falling away because of mediation.”
Hoover has served as presiding judge for District III and as a deputy chief judge. He has served as an author and editor of the Criminal Law Benchbook, and as a speaker and instructor for Judicial Education and State Bar programs. He is also a former faculty member of Mount Senario College. He received his bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison and law degree from the UW Law School. He is a former Wausau city attorney and Marathon County assistant district attorney.
Hoover said he hopes to spend his retirement pursuing his many interests and indulging in his latest phases, including learning to cook. He also plans to travel and spend more time at the cottage he has owned for 33 years. He admits until now he has not had time to enjoy the cottage for any long stretch of time.
Judge Patrick J. Taggart
Sauk County Circuit Court
Judge Patrick J. Taggart
Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Taggart said he believes judges are being asked to do more and more with less and less funding. But he also said the court system has been meeting that challenge with technological advances, such as the move towards going paperless, a move he believes makes judges more efficient.
Another technological advance that has helped the court system is video conferencing, which Taggart began using in his courtroom in the fall of 2003. Taggart chose to use video conferencing to ensure an orderly and safe initial appearance for a 15-year-old facing first-degree intentional homicide charges for a school shooting in 2006. In a case that received national media attention, Eric Hainstock was found guilty and sentenced by Taggart to life in prison for the shooting of Weston Schools Principal John Klang.
Taggart said the three or four homicide cases he has presided over during his career have been memorable because of the media attention they received.
He said he tried his best to relate to everyone who appeared before him, and is proud of the fact that they all got a “fair shake.”
Taggart was first appointed in 1993, and won election to the Branch 1 bench the following year. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Marquette University. Prior to taking the bench, he worked in private practice.
After he retires in March, Taggart plans to do some mediation and reserve work, to help the court system with calendaring cases. He also looks forward to seeing the two other judges in the county as well as the courthouse staff through reserve work. In the time he is required to take off before he can begin work as a reserve judge, he said he hopes to go someplace warm.