Ellen Berz unseated Judge Roger Allen for the Dane County Circuit Court, the first time a challenger has unseated the incumbent in more than 20 years. The unofficial results had Berz, a public defender and UW-Madison adjunct professor, winning with 55% of the vote over Allen, a former Madison assistant city attorney who was appointed to the position last year by Gov. Scott Walker.
Berz won the February primary with 44% of the vote to Allen's 31%. A third candidate, Francis Sullivan, got 24%.
Allen's campaign spokesman Mark Clear called Berz at around 9:30 p.m. to concede.
The race was marked by negativity, much of it happening behind the scenes. The Berz camp linked Allen to Walker and questioned his honesty by pointing out inaccurate statements he made during the campaign, including that he claimed endorsements he didn't have and misrepresented his role in writing a challenge to Scott Walker's union-busting challenge. Allen's side questioned Berz's finance reports and complained about being linked to Walker.
Both sides lamented the negative campaign Tuesday night. "It is uncharacteristic for Dane County judge races," Berz said at the Harmony Bar on Atwood, where she gathered with supporters. "We have to put that behind us."
Berz was better funded in the race, raising about $34,000 to Allen's $18,000. But Berz said what made the difference for her is "Dane County voters wanted to be the ones to choose their judge. Dane County voters are really smart. They do their research and make decisions based on who is most qualified."
Clear had a different take: "It's going to sound like sour grapes. But we tried to run a positive campaign. And they went negative. I don't know how you respond. And the media goes along with it."
"It's very unfortunate that the tone of the campaign took a negative turn," Clear added. "I hope we never see that again."
After Allen's camp conceded, the Harmony erupted in cheers. Standing on a chair, Berz thanked her supporters and volunteers. "I will perform this job with dignity, integrity and hard work," she told her supporters. "This is a win for Dane County, isn't it?"
Allen isn't the only Walker-appointed judge to lose to a challenger Tuesday. In Milwaukee County, Carolina Maria Stark appears to have beaten Nelson Wesley Phillips with 57% to 43% of the vote.