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 Marilyn Townsend, a candidate for Dane County Circuit Court Branch 12. Yesterday we published the column written by her competitor, Jill Karofsky. Theirs is the only contested judge race this spring. Shortly, we'll be running columns by the candidates for state schools superintendent, the five contested Madison City Council seats, and the Madison School Board.
My election will make history as the first labor union and civil rights lawyer to be elected Circuit Court judge. We live in Dane County — often the last line of defense for overreaches by those in power. My 30 years of being on the front lines have earned me the endorsements of progressive legislators like Sen. Fred Risser and Rep. Chris Taylor, as well as AFSCME and the South Central Federation of Labor, and hundreds of others you can find on my website, judgetownsendforcircuitcourt.com.
I understand the challenges that people face because I have lived them. I was born in Merrill to a poor farm family. I was one of eight children and we all had to chip in our fair share. I remember my dad waking me up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows before taking the 20-mile trek to school. My parents, who never graduated from high school, lived to see their kids graduate high school, college and some of them — like myself — law school.
My mother is a constant motivation for my hard work and dedication toward my clients. She worked as a waitress to help support the family. She would tell us stories of how she was cheated out of tips when customers paid with credit cards. She couldn’t speak out against the injustice for fear of losing her job. I vowed then and there to always speak out against injustice and that’s exactly what I have done my entire legal career.
Last November I argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, challenging a Walker administration law that was purposely written to make it more difficult for workers to receive unemployment compensation benefits when they suddenly find themselves without a job. I thought that winning a 3-0 Court of Appeals decision would be a successful end to the story, but the government appealed and we are currently awaiting a decision. This decision is incredibly important to the struggling woman who was denied unemployment benefits despite being a conscientious worker.
I am also a judge, having been elected three times as a Municipal Court judge. I preside over cases big and small, but no case is small to any person being charged with violating the law. Cases I decide include theft, illegal drugs, drunken driving and traffic offenses — cases that would appear in Dane County criminal court. I am supported by a wide range of judges, including Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who know just as I do that everyone before the court deserves a fair shake.
There is a stark choice in this race. My opponent talks about her criminal experience, but the record shows she spent 10 years in a human resources position — not in the courtroom. She then has spent the past seven years as a political appointee of J.B. Van Hollen and Brad Schimel — not in the courtroom. We are currently under arguably the most partisan attorney general this state has seen. This attorney general is choosing to spend Justice Department resources to criminally prosecute unemployment fraud allegations — conduct that was previously treated with civil penalties. He recently charged an individual with a crime after all benefits and penalties were paid back. This individual will now have a criminal record that will stigmatize him for the rest of his life. This does not help the community, and I believe in alternatives to criminal charges, especially in circumstances like this.
I have lived in Dane County for over 30 years. I have spent the entirety of those years speaking out against the injustices that the working poor — like my mother — have faced. You can trust that I will remember the stories of my mother and my clients every day as a Dane County Circuit Court judge and treat each person before the court as a person and not a case. I hope that you will help make history and elect me on April 4.
Marilyn Townsend is a candidate for Dane County Circuit Court Branch 12.