The Third Branch
Judge Andrew P. Bissonnette
Judge Andrew P. Bissonnette
Dodge County Circuit Court
When he first ran for the Dodge County Circuit Court Branch 3 bench 24 years ago, Judge Andrew P. Bissonnette said he ran on a platform of hard work and respect for those who appeared before him.
"It was easy for me to select that platform because I had had the good fortune to practice a number of years in the courtroom of Henry G. Gergen here in Dodge County," Bissonnette said. "What experts are now recommending that judges do, Henry Gergen was already doing over 30 years ago... looking people in the eye, making a connection with the people he was dealing with, treating them with respect, etc."
As he plans for his retirement at the end of his current term this July, Bissonnette said he is proud of the fact that he has stayed true to those campaign promises.
"I never took the path of least resistance," Bissonnette said. "I took the longer path that gave me the opportunity to have the most impact with the people appearing before me."
Bissonnette said he believes in order to make a positive difference in the lives of those in his courtroom, it took patience, time and effort, and a willingness to invest himself in each case and to make a connection. He remains inspired by the idea of procedural fairness, which was emphasized during a session at last year's Judicial Conference.
Looking back on his judicial career, Bissonnette said one of his more memorable and high-profile cases involved a prison inmate on a hunger strike. The inmate complained that the restraint chair the Department of Corrections was using to hold him in place while force-feeding was causing pain and swelling in his wrists. Bissonnette ordered the chair in question to be brought in to the courtroom, and then asked to be strapped in. In his 64-page ruling, Bissonnette ordered the Department of Corrections to stop force feeding Warren Lilly. The case was reported on by state, local and national media.
Bissonnette said he has also tried throughout his career to handle each plea and sentencing as if it were his first. One sentencing that has always stood out to him involved what was described as a mercy killing of a mentally ill woman committed by the victim's husband. After killing his wife in her sleep, the husband cleaned her up, changed her clothes, and then put her in bed in a comfortable position. He turned on their favorite music and then collected the items they had on loan from the public library. He left the items in the kitchen with a note asking the police to return them so they would not be late, before he went to the police station to turn himself in. At his sentencing, the victim's family asked Bissonnette to ensure that he be let out as soon as possible, because he was a kind man, who had truly loved and had always cared for his wife.
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Wyoming Law School, Bissonnette worked in private practice before his election to the circuit court in 1989. He has served on the Criminal Jury Instruction Committee, Wisconsin Judicial College faculty, Juvenile Jury Instruction Committee, Judicial Conference Legislative Committee, the Governor's Juvenile Justice Commission, and is a past president of Restorative Justice for Dodge County.
Bissonnette said he hopes to continue to be involved in the judicial system, through mediation, reserve judge work, or as a guardian ad litem. He also plans to travel with his wife, spend time with his grandchildren, and to spend more time biking and kayak fishing.
Judge Jacqueline R. Erwin
Judge Jacqueline R. Erwin
Jefferson County Circuit Court
After serving as assistant district attorney and district attorney for Jefferson County, Judge Jacqueline R. Erwin said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed her time in the family and children's court while serving on the Jefferson County Circuit Court Branch 3 bench.
"I didn't expect to feel that way with a criminal law background," she said.
Erwin retired from the bench on Jan.7, after almost 23 years. According to the Watertown Daily Times, she is the longest serving circuit court judge in the county's history. She said she is proud of her hard work and how much she learned, and enjoyed serving the people of the county and state.
"Here, I helped families through a difficult time, at critical tipping points in children's lives and those are the cases that I will take with me," Erwin told the Daily Times of her time in the family and children's courts.
During her time on the bench, Erwin said she noticed a decrease in the county's crime rate. Unfortunately, she said she also was aware of the increase in the number and severity of child abuse and neglect cases before the court.
A graduate of UW-Madison and Gonzaga Law School, Erwin was first appointed to the circuit court in 1990. She has served on the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, Judicial Conference Executive and Planning Committees, and the Reducing Recidivism Jail Project.
"I always tried to hold myself and the lawyers to a high standard," Erwin told the Daily Times, "so we got a good outcome and I always believed it was best to do the right thing the first time so I was pretty persnickety on the rules. I always tried to meet a high standard and do it right the first time."
"A retired colleague told me that he misses doing good," Erwin said. She said she believes she'll find that to be true. But she will pass the time by playing more tennis, fly fishing, auditing courses and volunteering, and the arrival of her first grandchild this spring should also help keep her busy.