In a race between two lawyers with similar positions on issues but vastly different professional experiences, former prosecutor Jill Karofsky defeated attorney and municipal judge Marilyn Townsend to become the newest Dane County judge.

Karofsky, 50, will replace Clayton Kawski, who was appointed to the Branch 12 post by Gov. Scott Walker after the departure last year of longtime Judge David Flanagan, who retired. Kawski did not seek election to the post.

"I was really pleased that our message resonated with the voters of Dane County," said Karofsky, who emphasized her qualifications for the job and the issues of racial disparity, access to justice and fairness in the courts. "I think that really resonated with people."

Karofsky was with supporters Tuesday night at the Laurel Tavern on Monroe Street.

"I'm so honored that the voters of Dane County chose to put their trust in me to do this important job," she said.

Karofsky was an assistant and deputy district attorney in the Dane County District Attorney's Office from 1992 to 2001. For nine years after that, she was the director of education and later the general counsel for the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Karofsky has held two posts in the state Department of Justice, as Violence Against Women prosecutor and currently heads the Office of Crime Victim Services.

Townsend, 67, has been a lawyer in private practice for about 30 years and since 2012 has been the municipal judge for the village of Shorewood Hills. She previously served on the village board there.

During the campaign, Townsend talked about her successes representing working-class people before all levels of the judiciary, and about the time she has spent hashing out some important issues as a municipal judge.

"We're disappointed, but I think it was a good race and I was very committed to serving as Dane County Circuit Court judge," Townsend said from her party at the Labor Temple. "But it didn't go our way this evening."

Karofsky argued throughout the campaign that Branch 12, which will hear criminal cases through at least mid-2019, needs a judge who has experience handling criminal cases, like the 10,000 that she said she handled as a Dane County prosecutor.

She will officially step into her new post in August.

Townsend said she is considering a run for an upcoming vacancy created by the recently announced retirement of Circuit Judge John Markson from Branch 1.

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Results: Dane County Circuit Court

Branch 12

(6-year term)

All precincts reporting
  • Jill J. Karofsky: 50,577 (58%)
  • Marilyn Townsend: 37,108 (42%)
  • Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.