Editor's note: The Capital Times invited candidates for races in our area to write columns telling voters why they should vote for them. Today we are running the column by Jill Karofsky, a candidate for Dane County Circuit Court Branch 12. Tomorrow we will publish the column written by her competitor, Marilyn Townsend. Theirs is the only contested judge race in our area this spring. Following that we'll run columns by the candidates for state schools superintendent, the five contested Madison City Council seats, and the Madison School Board.
I am running for Dane County judge because we face challenges in our criminal justice system including racial disparity and access to justice. I want to use my 25 years of experience in the criminal justice system to help address those challenges.
I have spent my career standing up for some of the most vulnerable people in the court system: women, children, people with disabilities, seniors and others who are victims of abuse, neglect or violence.
I have worked with defendants and victims to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone gets a fair shake. I have effectively collaborated with a variety of stakeholders — criminal defense attorneys, judges, prosecutors, advocates — to improve the judicial system. One simple truth has always guided me: Our courts work best when everyone’s rights are protected.
Courts must be places where everyone is equal under the law. In our democracy, the judiciary has a unique role as a check and a balance on the other branches of government. We’ve seen stark examples of that in the past weeks. Judges must have courage to do the right thing in the event of overreach by legislative or executive branches. That's the kind of judge I will be.
I began my career at the Dane County District Attorney’s Office in 1992. I worked under four district attorneys from both political parties: Foust, Nicks, Brophy and Blanchard. I handled 10,000 of the exact kind of cases this judge will hear.
After working as the chief attorney for the National Conference of Bar Examiners for several years, I chose to apply for, and became, Wisconsin’s first violence against women resource prosecutor, helping women and children who were victims of sexual assault and domestic violence by improving our response to those crimes.
When the opportunity arose to have a bigger impact, I jumped at the chance to become the director of Wisconsin's Office of Crime Victim Services. I am passionate about my meaningful work and the opportunity to use my legal skills to ensure individuals' rights are protected, families are strengthened, and justice is achieved.
During this campaign, people have told me that they are glad there are two progressives running for Dane County judge. And, while my opponent and I share similar values, we differ in a critically important way: I am the only candidate to have experience in criminal law.
Judges in Dane County Courts hear one type of case. The judge you elect on April 4 will decide criminal cases — homicide, sexual assault, domestic violence. This judge won’t hear unemployment cases or civil rights cases. My opponent has never handled a criminal case either as an attorney or as a municipal judge. I have handled thousands. Experience matters both in doing this job and in being an effective agent of change on issues of racial disparity and equity.
And, what can judges do about disparity? Judges can encourage new approaches in setting bail so that defendants aren’t incarcerated because they cannot afford bail. Judges can actively support diversion initiatives such as restorative justice courts, treatment and specialty courts. Judges can get out in the community and work with stakeholders to share and hear new ideas.
I am honored to have earned the support of Wisconsin’s last three Democratic governors: Martin Schreiber, Tony Earl and Jim Doyle. Former County Executive Kathleen Falk, County Clerk Scott McDonell, Sheriff Dave Mahoney, and DA Ismael Ozanne support me. More than 40 judges, including 23 past and current Dane County judges, are endorsing me, including Judge Maryann Sumi and Judge Everett Mitchell. I have earned the endorsement of Madison Teachers Inc. My website www.jillkarofskyforjudge.com has a current list.
Many of my endorsers have known me for years. They know firsthand my values, they know my work, and they know my commitment to justice. I would be honored by your support and your vote on April 4.
Jill Karofsky is a candidate for Dane County Circuit Court Branch 12.