The Democratic Party of Dane County is holding a candidate forum for the Dane County Circuit Court Judge race, with candidates Judge Rebecca St. John and Attorney Rhonda Lanford. It takes place at 7pm on Wednesday, March 13th at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison.
It's open to the public - you don't have to be a member of the party to attend. (We'll also be finishing up some endorsements afterwards, but you'd have to be a member of the party to participate in that.) There won't be a straw-poll for this forum.
We gave the candidates about half of the questions we'll be asking earlier this afternoon, they're below. We've got a few other questions for them, as well as the usual opening and closing statements.
If you're still thinking about how you'll vote in this race, or if you've picked your candidate and just want to come out and support them, we hope to see you on Wednesday night.
Issue: Alternatives to incarceration
Some Dane County judges resist using alternative incarceration programs such as day reporting, electronic monitoring, or weekend work programs (volunteer on weekend in order to reduce a sentence). Would you support the Sheriff’s efforts to reduce over-incarceration and would you aggressively use these alternative programs as judge? Are there other programs that you would like to see implemented in Dane County?
Issue: Electronic Calendar System
The Court does not have a modern electronic calendar system that is integrated with the DA, Public Defender, private bar, and local law enforcement. This creates enormous delays and wasted time and money for all involved, especially local law enforcement and sheriff deputies. Despite this, the judges fought only a few years ago to keep their leather bound paper calendars instead of switching to a modern system.
Would you fight to adopt a calendar management system that emphasizes flexibility, accountability, and timely use of available judicial resources and that can be accessed and used by all interested parties, even if that system were to slightly impinge on a Judge's own control of their calendar?
Issue: Timely processing of cases
Outside experts have observed that there is a general culture of delay in the Dane County judicial system that does not exist in other jurisdictions. In fact, a study from a few years ago showed that in felony matters, 62% of the felonies in the Dane County Circuit Court were disposed of within 180 days. The statewide standard set by the State Supreme Court is 90%.
Regarding misdemeanors, the goal was for 95% of the misdemeanor cases to be resolved within 180 days.
In Dane County, 69% were resolved within 180 days. The average for all other Wisconsin courts was 80%.
This lack of attention to disposition times is extremely costly to both the taxpayer in artificially bloating the jail population and to the public and private bar. Would you ask the Chief Judge to use existing authority to adopt timeliness standards and enforce them among the criminal bench until they are achieved? In addition, would you post your own branch statistics from CCAP on the County web site so that all voters can evaluate your effectiveness versus state guidelines?
Issue: Court Settlement Conferences
Another tool for timely disposition of cases was a special court called the Court Settlement Conferences (CSC) which were recently discontinued. The CSC’s handled cases that fit common and predetermined patterns of settlement, and relied on timely delivery of discovery and settlement offers that were the best offers the defense would receive. This process was fair, as it was relatively neutral to one’s counsel and greatly expedited how long someone stayed in jail simply waiting for the process. CSC's also cleared many cases from the docket quickly without relying on delays and continuances. The system has faltered due to inconsistent offers and turnover in the DA’s office and some distrust in the private bar.
Would you support mandating discovery timeliness standards in yours and other courts and would you support restoring and participating in the Court Settlement Conferences?