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The Daily
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Walker appointment at issue as Rhonda Lanford ousts Rebecca St. John for Dane County judge
Lanford: "I've practiced law in the Wisconsin courts."

Whether it was because of a difference in experience or the Scott Walker kiss of death, Dane County has a new judge.

Rhonda Lanford defeated Rebecca St. John for the Dane County Circuit Court Branch 16 seat by a little more than 4,000 votes on Tuesday, according to unofficial returns.

Lanford said Wednesday morning that her experience and her judicial philosophy helped put her over the top. "I've practiced law in the Wisconsin courts," she says. "I know that made a difference to people in who they wanted on the bench."

But St. John's campaign manager, Melissa Mulliken, says Lanford's campaign exploited the fact that St. John was appointed to the post last August by Gov. Walker, who is unpopular in Dane County. Mulliken says Lanford spent $64,000 on an ad that prominently mentions the governor.

"I think clearly the Lanford campaign put the Walker appointment as the centerpiece of their campaign," she says. "The Lanford campaign believed it was the killer negative."

Lanford says her campaign wasn't trying to taint St. John by association, but to point out that she wasn't an elected incumbent.

"She called herself the incumbent judge. I thought it was important to draw attention to the fact that she was not elected, she was appointed," Lanford says. "Her judicial experience was limited to just a few months on the bench."

The election marks the second time a Walker judicial appointee was subsequently rejected at the polls. Last year, Ellen Berz defeated the Walker-appointed Roger Allen for Dane County Circuit Court's Branch 11. Another Walker appointee, Judge Frank Remington, managed to get voter approval in April 2012, but he ran unopposed.

In a statement, St. John says: "I'm proud of my work as a judge, and I'm proud of the positive campaign we ran and the incredible support we received. I focused on the critical issues circuit courts address, including domestic violence, mental health and drug addiction, racial disparity and child abuse. I'm going to continue to work on these issues, whatever comes next for me."

St. John will stay on the bench until Aug. 1, when Lanford will take over. The six-year term pays $128,600 annually.

[Editor's note: Isthmus news editor Judith Davidoff is Rhonda Lanford's partner. Davidoff had no involvement in writing or editing this article.]

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