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Governor expected to appoint newly elected judges in Columbia, Juneau counties

April 10, 2018 GMT

The judges-elect for Juneau and Columbia County Circuit Courts will be fast-tracked to fill vacant seats through appointment by Gov. Scott Walker, according to a spokeswoman.

Walker intends to appoint Troy Cross to the Columbia County Circuit Court and Stacy Smith to the Juneau County Circuit Court, Walker press secretary Amy Hasenberg said in an email Monday.

Both candidates won their respective elections April 3, but without the governor’s appointment, they would not begin their new roles until August.

“They called me this morning and all they have said so far is that I would get an early appointment,” Smith said Monday. “They did not go into any time scheduling, but I expect a call from somebody tomorrow.”

As candidates, both expressed enthusiasm for getting to work as soon as possible to begin relieving the backlog of cases in each county. Judge Alan White retired Sept. 13 from the Columbia County Circuit Court, leaving the county with two judges for three courts, while Juneau County has operated with one judge since the resignation of Judge John Roemer in August 2017.

When White announced his retirement in May 2017, four candidates applied for appointment by the governor’s office, including Cross. Three later ran for election to the seat when Walker declined to make an appointment. Cross won April 3 over fellow applicant Brenda Yaskal.

In Juneau County, Smith won 53 percent to 47 percent over former Juneau County Assistant District Attorney Scott Southworth.

“I would love to start as soon as I can, but we’ll see what the governor’s office has to say — they’re in control,” Smith said. “I’ve started some minor work and actually offered a position earlier today for a judicial assistant. I’ve been working since Election Night, or 2:30 a.m. the next morning. I didn’t sleep that night so I started making lists of things I need to do.”

Before presiding over any cases, Cross and Smith will get training through judicial college and job shadowing, but first they must address obligations with their current caseloads. Smith said he had two significant trial cases in January, but nothing like that in the near future, and so would be able to transition out of the Vernon County DA’s office, where he is assistant DA, within a week or two.

Vernon County DA Timothy Gaskell “has been very supportive and I’ll probably be here late tonight trying to finish up work here,” Smith said.

The additional workloads caused by the open seats have been mitigated by reserve judges — retired judges from their own and surrounding counties — who have filled in to preside over cases, but have not been able to handle more involved, longer-term trials.

In Columbia County, another factor in the court calendar has been the upcoming move from the court’s interim home in the Columbia County Administration Building to the renovated courthouse at the end of May. In the temporary space, the court has worked with one “jury courtroom,” designed as a storage area with poor acoustics and noisy ventilation.

“I literally scheduled a trial for April of next year,” said Judge W. Andrew Voigt at the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Judiciary Committee meeting Monday, “and that’s just part of the fallout of only having one trial courtroom.”