John Markson

Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson will step down after nearly 10 years on the bench.

In about seven weeks Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson will say “au revoir” to the bench.

After serving since 2007, Markson is retiring as of June 2, his sights set on a cabin on a lake near Mont Orford National Park in Quebec. The rugged spot is east of Montreal, not far from where Markson’s wife, Diane Rivard, grew up.

Rivard, who works in the Department of Mathematics at UW-Madison, is also retiring.

“I never grew tired of the job,” Markson said. “I still enjoy the job. If circumstances were different, I’d continue to do it.”

He said he’s found his experience on the bench, where he has served in both criminal and civil case rotations, “satisfying.”

Markson, who turns 63 this summer, said there’s nothing specific about the timing for his retirement, it’s just a desire to spend more time doing the things he and his wife enjoy, like camping, hiking, running and snowshoeing. They have two grown sons.

“We have been fortunate to be healthy, and we do plan to travel,” he said. “It just seemed that this was the right time.”

He said retirement part time in Quebec, embedded in French language and culture, will also give him an opportunity to brush up on his French, which he learned after meeting his wife, who is a native French speaker.

“My wife would tell you I do just fine,” he said, but he added that he wants to take his French “to the next level,” perfecting his ability to read and write the language.

Markson is a Milwaukee native who was in private law practice with a Madison law firm before he was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Jim Doyle. After his departure, Gov. Scott Walker will have an opportunity to appoint a successor, who will then have to stand for election the following spring to keep the seat.

Markson said he and his wife plan to spend summers in Quebec and keep a home in Madison as well. He will make himself available for work as a reserve judge, he said, and plans to do some mediation and arbitration work as well. He said he has no plans to return to private law practice, as a few retired judges have done in recent years.

Among the things he’ll miss most about leaving the courthouse, he said, are the people, including the court staff and lawyers he works alongside every day.

Among the more memorable cases he heard, Markson said, were homicide trials like that of Marcius “Butters” Lee, convicted of shooting and robbing a man outside a Madison motel in 2014, and the case of Julio Marin-Garcia, who stabbed his wife to death in Fitchburg in 2007.

The outcomes of those cases were important not only to the defendants, but to victims and their families, he said.

Other cases that he said were important were those of state Capitol protesters who were issued hundreds of citations. His ruling that tossed citations on constitutional and procedural grounds influenced dismissals of dozens more citations before other judges.

In his typically understated fashion, Markson said the ruling was “an interesting decision for the community and was an orderly process.”


Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.