"Evers' judges" is our effort to present information about Gov. Tony Evers' appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications.
Italics indicate direct quotes from the application. Typos, including punctuation errors, come from the original application even though we have not inserted “(sic)” after each one. WJI has left them as is.
Name: Anthony C. Nehls
Appointed to: Fond du Lac County Circuit Court
Appointment date: October 14, 2022 (effective December 5, 2022, to complete term ending July 31, 2024)
Law School – Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Undergraduate – Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee
High School – Random Lake, Random Lake, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
July 2007-present – Attorney, Nehls Law Office, S.C., Mount Calvary, Wisconsin
May 2006-July 2007 – Assistant state public defender, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Bar and administrative memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
General character of practice:
I have a solo practice focusing on Criminal Defense, Juvenile Delinquency, Child in Need of Protection and Services (CHIPs), Termination of Parental Rights (TPR), OWI, Estate Planning, Probate and Real Estate. I represent parents in both CHIPs and TPR cases. 60% of my practice is focussed on litigation and the rest is transactional. Of the transactional work I handle about 8-10 probates a year, 40-50 estate planning clients and about 40-50 real estate transactions. My office is located in what is commonly referred to as the Holy Lands of Northeast Fond du lac County. There has been a law office in this area for nearly 70 years and I have been the attorney for the past 15 of those years.
Describe typical clients:
Many of my litigation clients are indigent and appointed through the County. Most of these clients have mental health and/or substance abuse issues. I specialize in CHIPS and TPR cases representing parents who have had their children removed from their care. My transactional clients are usually from the rural eastern part of Fond du Lac County.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 42
List up to three significant trials, appeals, or other legal matters in which you participated as a judge or lawyer in the past seven years:
State v. [Redacted], Fond du Lac 18-CF-534-Honorable Dale L. English
Opposing Counsels were DA Eric Toney, ADA Catherine Block and AAG Sarah Burgundy
I was appointed to represent [redacted] on August 13, 2018. [Redacted] was charged with felony possession of narcotic drugs as a repeater. [He] had overdosed and police were called to revive him. At that time, Wis. Stat. 961.443(2)(b}2. allowed an "aided person" to be afforded a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. An "aided person" was someone who was the subject of a 9-1-1 call. I filed a Motion to Dismiss or for an evidentiary hearing to determine if [redacted] met the criteria as an "aided person". The Court denied the Motion to Dimiss but found that [redacted] was an "aided person" as defined by staute. The court ordered the DA's Office to offer-a Deferred Prosecution Agreement on October 12, 2018. After three more hearings and no Deferred Prosecution Agreement being offered, I again moved to dismiss. On October 24th, 2019, the court ordered the case dismissed for failing to abide by the statute. The State appealed the decision on November 20, 2019. On June 17, 2021 the Court of Appeals Summarily Affirmed the dismissal. The case is significant because it had so many different legal issues. Does a circuit court have the authority to dismiss a case when a prosecutor refuses to follow a statue providing immunity to a defendant when the prosecutor doesn't agree with the legislature? The DA did not feel the defendant was being held accountable for his actions. The great tragedy of the case was that the legislative intent of the statute was to provide help to those suffereing from drug addiction in a timely manner. Luckily, [redacted] sought and received treatment on his own but the DA's Office spent 3 years fighting the case all the while refusing to assist in his treatment needs.
In re the Matter of [Redacted], ML-17-0306 ALJ Beth Whitaker Div. of Hearings and Appeals
Opposing Counsel Atty Chelsea Brocker
I was retained on October 3, 2018, to represent [redacted] in an appeal of a decsion by the Fond du Lac Dept. of Social Services (DSS) where he and his wife were found to have abused 2 adoptive children. [Redacted] and his wife adopted 3 children from a Haitian orphanage in 2012. They quickly became concerned with behavioral issues with 2 of the children. The kids displayed symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The symptoms became so severe that one of the girls attacked [his] wife with a knife. A psychiatrist reported the parents for abuse to DSS based on stories told be the 2 children. After a 2 day trial from November 19-20, 2018, the parents were exonerated of the abuse substantiation. It was significant for the parents to prove that they were not abusive to their children. They loved their children but were fearful of what they may do. It is not uncommon for adoptive parents to find that children raised in orphanages, who were deprived of nurturing at an early age, suffer from RAD and sociopathy.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
I have represented dozens of clients before Hearing and Appeals in both Probation/Extended Supervision revocation proceedings and while appealing a substantiation of Child Neglect or Abuse by the Dept of Social Services.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
I advise clients in estate planning and draft wills, powers of attorneys, trusts, and TOD deeds. I have represented hundreds of clients in real estate transactions from offers to purchases, condition reports, ordering title work, drafting deeds and preparing and filing E-Returns.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Campaign treasurer for Judge Kristine Snow, Dodge County Circuit Court
Previous runs for public office: None listed
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Judge Kristine Snow, Circuit Court Judge, 2020
Judge Andrew Christenson, Circuit Court Judge, 2021
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Brooke Industries, Inc., board of directors, June 2022-present
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
For nearly 14 years I worked as assigned counsel through the State Public Defender's Office representing indigent clients in a wide variety of criminal matters.
Why I want to be a judge:
Since an early age I have pursued opportunities to serve my community. At the age of 20 I enlisted in the US Army to serve. I became what they considered a three-time volunteer. I volunteered for the Army. While serving, I volunteered for Airborne duty as a US Army Paratrooper. As a Paratrooper I volunteered to serve in Special Forces. The military is a melting pot of America. Persons from all over the country, from all walks of life come together for a common goal. During my time I loved being a representative of my country in far-away places doing things for the good of my country. While performing these duties I was able to meet and form friendships with people from around the globe. Whether they were Kosovars looking to reclaim their homeland and build a better nation or Tigrinya tribesmen who entered service on the side of the Eritrean government so that they could escape the oppression of the Ethiopian government. After being injured, I left the service to attend law school. I always hoped that my experiences and ability to understand different cultures and ethnicities could someday serve me to make my community a better place. These experiences helped shape my views of the world. Having lived with, ate with, trained with and worked with people from different cultures left me with the understanding that wherever we come from we all share the same wants and needs in life.
My legal career started as an intern with the Fond du Lac State Public Defender’s Office. I enjoyed the idea of helping the less fortunate and the underserved. After 16 years practicing as an attorney in Wisconsin, I believe it is time serve once again. I am an experienced attorney. I’ve represented thousands of people from all kinds of diverse and socio-economic backgrounds in a wide variety of legal matters. I can use my legal experience as well as my personal experience to help shape a better Wisconsin. In this present time, I feel my community needs people with a wealth of not only legal experience but life experience who are from different backgrounds and who can bring a more diverse range of thought. I wish to serve to make the legal system more approachable, and more friendly to litigants who may be experiencing mental health crises, addiction issues and poverty. I have witnessed these things first hand from an early age and believe a more understanding, even handed approach which searches for long term solutions using all available community resources would make Wisconsin and my community a better place. Every day in courtrooms across Wisconsin families of individuals charged with crimes beg for assistance in getting their loved ones the help they need. We have Veterans Courts and Drug Courts, but I would love to play a part in the development of Mental Health Courts so that we have tools available within the criminal justice system to get these people the mental health help services they need.
Describe which case in the past 25 years by the Wisconsin Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court you believe had a significant positive or negative impact on the people of Wisconsin.
Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 133 S. Ct. 1552 (2013)
In 2013, the US Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court that a routine Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) investigation was not a per se exigent circumstance and therefore a warrantless forced blood draw violated the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable searches of one’s person. The facts of the case are simple, a driver is pulled over for speeding and crossing the center line. Upon contact, the officer suspects the driver of being impaired. The officer requests the driver to submit to a preliminary breath test. The driver refuses to take a preliminary breath test, so the officer arrests the driver and takes the driver to a nearby hospital for a blood draw. The driver again refused to consent to the blood draw and the officer instructed that the blood draw be performed without obtaining a warrant.
The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court had a wide-ranging impact on implied consent laws throughout the United States and Wisconsin. For years drivers in the State of Wisconsin were subject to forced blood draws without Court oversight. No warrants were needed and the individual would face increased penalties for refusing such a search. The argument was that driving is a privilege and not a right and thus the State should have the right to reasonably control the circumstances of providing that privilege. The decision focused on the exceptions to the warrant requirement for such searches. Instead of providing a bright line rule that all OWI cases should be viewed as exigent circumstances, as the State argued, the Court found that a case-by-case basis for examining the totality of the circumstances was still the best way to determine if an exception to the warrant requirement applied. This was the correct decision. It’s hard to imagine a search being more intrusive then being forced to submit to a needle being stabbed into one’s arm and having bodily fluid extracted without one’s consent. But that is what the implied consent laws allowed. The decision opened the door to other decisions regarding the enhanced penalties applied using refusals for warrantless blood draws. In Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016) the U.S. Supreme Court addressed how McNeeley should apply to a state’s implied consent laws. The Court found that a defendant’s refusal of a warrantless blood draw should not be used to subject the defendant to increased criminal penalties. The WI Supreme Court ruled similarly for defendants facing advanced criminal penalties using prior refusals of warrantless blood draws. In 2018, the WI Supreme Court decided State v. Dalton, 2019 WI 86. Citing to Birchfield, the Court concluded that imposing “criminal penalties” on defendants who refuse to submit to a warrantless blood test are outside the “limit” of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches. These decisions can be traced back to the proper ruling in McNeely making it one of the most important cases of the last 25 years.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
The two judges I admire the most are Circuit Court Judge Robert Wirtz of Fond du lac County and Circuit Court Judge Terence Bourke of Sheboygan County. Both judges were consummate professionals. Professionalism may sound like a simplistic reason for admiration but sometimes the simple things in life make the greatest impact. While both these judges had very different approaches as to how they ran their courtrooms they both had one thing in common, an unwavering desire to always be professional. Professionalism can be shown through simple things. Showing up on time is being professional. Understanding that the parties, the personnel, the staff, the defendants are all there waiting on the judge to start the day. Respecting the litigants by being there on time and showing that they are important is an easy thing to do. Oftentimes the people attending court are full of fear, anxiety and a general sense of not knowing what will happen. The least a judge can do is be on time.
Professionalism can also be shown by being prepared. We’ve all been in front of a judge who comes in to court and asks, “what are we doing today?” It is possible that one of the parties has spent hours of their personal time preparing a motion and a brief to be heard. Opposing counsel has filed a reply brief and has spent hours preparing their argument. Now both parties are unsure of how to proceed. These two judges were always prepared for court. They could summarize the filings, quote the filings, fully understood the issues that were before them and were prepared to proceed. They were knowledgeable about the law and the legal issues being argued. Both of these judges could speak plainly and clearly about any legal subject before them without the slightest hint of arrogance or condescension.
Professionalism can be shown by how you treat people. I’ve watched both these judges closely in how they addressed defendants, attorneys, victims, witnesses, juries and court room staff. They were both extremely effective in communicating with people from a variety of different ethnic and/or socio-economic backgrounds. They treated everyone with the same amount of respect regardless of who they were or who they were representing. You would never have known from their demeanor whether they were talking to a person accused of a vile crime or the victim of that same crime. They were both impeccable in how they communicated without ever displaying the slightest sign of personal animus or feelings about the case. If I were ever fortunate enough to be appointed as a Circuit Court Judge or elected as one, the greatest compliment I could ever be given would be to have someone compare me favorably to one of these two judges.
The proper role of a judge:
The proper role of a judge is to be a knowledgeable, professional, communicative and most of all to be a neutral referee in applying the law, proper procedure and precedent to the disputes brought before them. The role of a judge is to apply the law to the facts of the case without regard to the personal opinion the judge may have on the subject. Judges to not legislate from the bench. The people of the State of Wisconsin have elected law makers for that task. I’ve often heard the judge’s role compared to an umpire in a baseball game. The umpire’s role is to call balls and strikes and outs but without impacting the result of the game. I believe this analogy is accurate. Like an umpire, a judge should have no interest in the end result of the dispute. The judge is oftentimes the figurehead of the legal system. The judge is the person people see when they first come into court and the last person heard before leaving court. Unrepresented litigants are often brought before a judge to have their disputes heard and then that judge is relied upon to determine the results. It is for this reason that knowledge and professionalism is so important. Treating people, whether unrepresented lay persons or experienced litigators, with respect and with understanding is essential. Parties should leave the courtroom with not only an understanding of what transpired but with a sense that they were fully heard. The parties may not agree with the decision of the judge or the result of their case but they should be confident that the result was the proper one according to the law, the procedure and the precedent applicable to the issues. It is therefore the role of a judge to listen critically. The ability to communicate to the parties, to apply the law fairly and appropriately and to render decision based on the facts and the law is essential. The role of the judge is to ensure both sides of a dispute are acting in accordance with applicable laws and procedure and treating the opposing party with the proper respect afforded all litigants. Again, they are very much a referee, setting the proper tone, exhibiting the proper professionalism and decorum that is expected within the courtrooms in Wisconsin and which is governed by the appropriate Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct.
Help WJI advocate for justice in Wisconsin