The Third Branch
Karen E. Christenson
Milwaukee County Circuit Court
Judge Karen E. Christenson
While Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Karen E. Christenson thinks every judge who presides over felony cases in Milwaukee will handle some memorable cases, it's her eight years in the children's court that stand out to her, because she feels that's where she made the most difference.
When Christenson retires Aug. 1, she will leave behind a legacy that includes the first family drug treatment court in the state, something she takes pride in helping initiate. The program, launched in Milwaukee County in April 2011, was created through a $650,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention. The program provides treatment and support for parents struggling with substance abuse problems, with the goal of reducing the time children spend in foster care, and ultimately reuniting the parents with their children.
Christenson was first elected to the Branch 37 bench in 1998, after the retirement of Judge Arlene D. Connors. She won reelections 2004 and 2010. A graduate of UW-Madison and Marquette University Law School, she had previously served as a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney, and worked in private practice, as a book editor, and as a junior high school English teacher. She has served on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Judicial Education Committee, the Association of Women Lawyers, as chair of the Juvenile Jury Instruction Committee, is the former presiding judge of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court Juvenile division.
Over the years, Christenson said she had noticed a decrease in the resources available to the judiciary, but believes the court system is doing as well as it can to adapt.
"I think it's recognized by everyone that we're limping along here," she said, adding that she doesn't see how the court system could handle any further cuts.
Christenson said she is looking forward to her retirement, and having the time to add sponteniety back in to her life and reinvent herself.
Judge Thomas E. Lister
Jackson County Circuit Court
Judge Thomas E. Lister
During the last six years, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas E. Lister has noticed a distinct redirection away from the revolving door system in the courts for those who struggle with substance addiction and dependency.
"There's greater emphasis on treatment, and identifying people to divert in to treatment programs," Lister said.
Lister has done his part, with the creation of several problem-solving court programs in his county, including an adult treatment court, a family treatment court, and two courts for members of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The treatment courts have an added benefit of helping caseload, which Lister said has been at its heaviest in the county in the last six years.
Lister said one of the benefits of being a single-judge county is that he has had the opportunity to see all kinds of people in the courtroom, from families celebrating adoptions to troubled individuals facing criminal charges. He said he will miss these day-to-day interactions.
Lister was appointed in 2008 and elected in 2009, after working in private practice and serving as district attorney and corporation counsel. A graduate of De Pauw University and UW Law School, he has served on the State-Tribal Justice Forum and the Judicial Legislative Committee, and as a fellow of the Wisconsin Law Foundation.
In 2011, a challenge of a plea Lister accepted made its way to the state Supreme Court. Lister had accepted the guilty plea in State v. Soto via video conference. The defendant later filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that the hearing via video conference violated his right to be physically present. The Supreme Court ruled that Lister had conducted a proper colloquy, and the decision opened up the possibility of video conferencing for other court proceedings.
While Lister said he does plan to spend part of his retirement on his boat on Lake Michigan, he admits he does have some more unusual retirement plans, as he owns the patent rights to a polymer technology that eliminates bacteria on textiles, and will be working with the USDA and North Carolina University to promote its use in the medical field to reduce incidents of hospitalization due to infections.
Judge Maryann Sumi
Dane County Circuit Court
Judge Maryann Sumi
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi retired May 30. She left the bench after a distinguished, often visible, career, including being named the State Bar of Wisconsin's "Judge of the Year" in 2012.
Sumi was first appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998. She was elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2005 and 2011.
During that time, Sumi presided over cases in each of the circuit court's divisions - criminal, civil and juvenile. She especially enjoyed the challenges presented by civil cases and the satisfaction of helping litigants resolve their disputes.
"It is a wonderful job, a humbling job, because of its challenges," Sumi said. "It's demanding but immensely rewarding."
Sumi said she felt a strong sense of responsibility each day she put on the robe: "It's the symbol of impartiality, and a constant reminder of the critical role of an impartial and independent judiciary."
Sumi handled many significant and high-profile cases, including challenges to 2011 Wis. Act 10, the controversial legislation affecting public employee bargaining rights.
However, there is not one specific case that stands out as the most memorable in her mind, she said. Instead, the most enduring part of the job has been doing the work judges do every day - resolving disputes and helping people move on with their lives.
Sumi said she leaves the bench while she still loves the job, and will miss the courthouse, its staff, and the people who come to court to have their cases heard.
Sumi served as an Associate Dean of the Wisconsin Judicial College and on the Criminal Jury Instructions Committee. From 2007-2013 she was presiding judge of Dane County.
Judge Wilbur W. Warren III
Kenosha County Circuit Court
Judge Wilbur W. Warren III
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Wilbur W. Warren III is looking forward to retirement. He said it feels like the right time, and he plans to spend time enjoying life and relaxing with his wife at their place in Door County. Warren will step down from the Branch 5 bench Aug. 18.
Warren said 18 years on the bench have created a lot of memories, but it is the first degree homicide trial of Ezequiel Lopez-Quintero that will always stand out to him. Lopez-Quintero was convicted of killing Kenosha County Deputy Sheriff Frank Fabiano Jr. during a routine traffic stop in 2007. Warren presided over the jury trial, which was heard in Racine County due to pretrial publicity. Warren, who sentenced Lopez-Quintero to life without parole, said the irony that Fabiano gave his own life protecting others struck him most.
Warren said he will miss the friends he has made in the court system and in the courthouse most. While he thinks he may miss the work, he said he has noticed an increase in the workload over the years, while the available staff has decreased.
"When I first started practicing, court started at nine. Now it starts at eight to get everything in," he said.
While he believes the court system faces the same economic issues as the other two branches of government, he said he feels the judicial system has been required to cut back more, making it more difficult to get the job done in the way it should be done.
Warren was first appointed to the bench in 1996, and elected 1997, 2003, and 2009. He had previously served as Kenosha County Circuit Court commissioner and worked in private practice. He has served as president of the Developmental Disabilities Service Center.
District Court Administrator
District Court Administrator Bruce Harvey has announced he will retire, effective Aug. 18. Harvey has served as administrator for the First Judicial District since 1997. He joined in the Milwaukee County courts in 1989, and has served as the administrator of the Milwaukee County criminal and children's courts, justice system review coordinator for Milwaukee County, deputy executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Criminal Justice, and as a legislative assistant in the Wisconsin Senate.
"Bruce has dedicated most of his professional career to making District One the best in the state," Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, said. "He has been a terrific partner with all of the judges in Milwaukee, but especially the chief judges, in making that happen."
As the district court administrator, Harvey was responsible for the planning, budget, and administration of the Milwaukee County court administrative staff, court commissioners, and trial courts. He holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Colorado.
In 2009, Harvey was named an "Unsung Hero" by the Wisconsin Law Journal for his work in helping the legal community and court system run efficiently.
"To the extent we have made positive changes in our system Bruce is due a lot of the credit; where we have not done so well it is usually because I ignored his sage advice," Kremers went on to say. "Unlike criminal cases that do not get better with age, Bruce, like a fine wine, just keeps getting better. I will miss him greatly."
Holly Szablewski, the Milwaukee County judicial review coordinator, has been chosen as the new district court administrator.