"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. WJI also will continue to profile former Gov. Scott Walker's appointees who are still in office.
Name: Anthony J. Stella Jr.
Appointed to: Iron County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Sept. 26, 2019; elected to a six-year term in 2020.
Law School – University of Texas at Austin
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin-Madison
High School – Hurley High School
Recent legal employment:
2011-present – Semi-retired, part-time private practice.
1997-2010 – Solo private practice
1995-1997 – Iron County district attorney
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
Wisconsin State Bar
Michigan State Bar
U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin
My membership in the Michigan State Bar was briefly suspended for nonpayment of dues in early 2018 while I was vacationing in Florida and had no pending cases in Michigan. It was reinstated immediately within a matter of days upon payment.
General character of practice: My practice covered virtually every area of the law, as is typical of many solo, small-town law practices.
Typical clients, areas of specialty: Typical work included representing defendants in criminal or traffic cases, preparing wills and/or estate planning documents, drafting contracts and giving general business advice, drafting real estate documents and litigating real estate cases. I have prosecuted and defended homicide cases. For almost 10 years I filed over 100 claims a year against hardboard siding manufacturers for defective siding on clients' homes. I have represented both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury cases and breach of contract cases. Although I have not specialized, I particularly enjoy government law and matters related to open records and open meetings. I have represented Iron County as its corporation counsel, the City of Hurley as its Attorney, and the Towns of Knight and Carey as Town Attorney, drafting ordinances, prosecuting ordinance violations, and advising government officials. I have successfully made claims against government bodies for violations of the open records laws, and successfully sued a county board, forcing its members to pay back raises they approved for themselves unlawfully. I have routinely given advice without compensation to local government leaders, including sheriffs, town officials, county officers, county board members, and school officials.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Approximately 15.
Describe up to three significant trials, appeals, or other legal matters in which you participated as a judge or lawyer in the past seven years:
I represented the plaintiff in a claim against the Mercer School District for violation of the Open Records Law that started and concluded in early 2014....he Court found that the School District violated the law, and awarded attorney fees and costs.
I believed the case was important because the District had been a repeat offender of the Open Records Law. The District would routinely deny requests for information with no legal justification, or stall requests for months at a time, and even deny requests from a sitting school board member. Shortly after the case was filed, the District turned over the requested documents. However, I felt it was important to get a judgment declaring that the District committed a violation and an award of fees and costs to my client. Without a judgment there would be no incentive for the school officials to comply with the law in the future – they could merely continue to deny requests and then simply comply once sued, without consequences.
To me the case was significant because it resulted in the District promptly complying with requests in subsequent y ears, after years of open-records violation complaints that had been made to local and state officials to no avail.
From March to May of 2015 I represented a client on a charge of felony bail jumping.... The client was accused of trespassing on land controlled by Gogebic Taconite while she was out on bail during a period of intense political debates and protests over plans to put an iron mine in Iron County. My client had been previously convicted of a felony, "robbery with use of force," for wrestling a phone away from a Gogebic Taconite employee photographing her during a
protest, and was out on bail on that charge when the alleged trespass took place almost 2 years later. The legislature had passed trespass laws tailored specifically for Gogebic Taconite to help it control the land area near the proposed mine site and keep protesters away. The law was flawed and unenforceable in my opinion.
I did not represent the client in her first case, where I believed her conviction and sentence were overly severe given the f acts. Although she certainly violated the law, she was a victim of politics. Governor Scott Walker, State Senator Tom Tiffany and several others publicly called for her to be charged and punished "to the maximum extent allowed by law." It was a politically charged atmosphere. When it appeared she was going to be treated just as severely in the bail -jumping case friends of hers reached out to me, as they saw me as a voice of knowledge and reason during the mining controversy, and knew I understood the politics involved. I replaced her attorney and was almost immediately able to dampen the political rhetoric and got the Class E Felony charge reduced to a simple Class B Forfeiture, "Trespass to Land."
The case was significant to me because I felt I was preventing an injustice wherein my client was being treated severely because she was caught up in a statewide political firestorm. I was incensed that politicians across the state were using her as a tool to further their own political standing. This case is representative of the types of things I have enjoyed handling over the years, where I get more satisfaction out of seeing justice done than I do in getting paid large fees.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies: Handled petitions for water rate increases before state Public Service Commission; represented employees and employers in unemployment cases, and of workers denied unemployment claims.
Appointed or elective public offices held:
Hurley School Board, Iron County district attorney, Town of Knight supervisor and later town clerk.
Significant pro bono work or volunteer service:
I would not describe any of my pro bono work as significant. However, during the political debate over a proposed iron mine in Iron County a few years ago I provided a significant amount of legal advice without charge to officials at the Wisconsin DNR, and to Iron County officials, including the full county board, the zoning administrator and the sheriff. I also gave free advice to the Ashland County Board Chairman and several Ashland County Officials. My input helped shape law enforcement policies and the drafting of ordinances and laws. As a public service I also published a blog outlining and explaining many legal issues for the benefit of people on both sides in the debate. I routinely provide free legal help to friends in minor matters, such as OWI cases or simple wills or deeds, and often give substantial breaks on fees to persons who cannot afford the prevailing rates. I have forgiven tens of thousands in fees owed by clients over the years, and have never sued a client over fees.
Previous campaign involvement: Served as own campaign manager and treasurer. Ran for Iron County district attorney in 1986, 1988, 1994, 2012 and 2016.
Unpaid volunteer for California Governor Jerry Brown's 1980 presidential campaign and for Vice President Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign.
Previous runs for office:
Hurley School Board, elected April 1986.
Iron County district attorney, elected 1986 and 1994, lost in 1988, 2012 and 2016.
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last 10 years: None listed.
Why I want to be a judge – When I was a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1980, majoring in geology and geophysics, I had an opportunity to watch a federal court jury trial from start to finish. In that trial U.S. Attorney Frank Turkheimer prosecuted and convicted the Iron County Circuit Court Judge on Mann Act charges related to promoting prostitution in Hurley. I got to spend a lot of time talking to Mr. Turkheimer and the lead FBI agent on the case. I became enamored with the law and embarrassed for my hometown at the same time. The seeds of going to law school were planted in my head, with the dream that maybe someday I could be the judge in my hometown and help change its image....
I’ve always held the thought that someday, when I became older and wiser, I would seek the judge’s seat. I had expected to run a few years from now when Judge Madden’s term was set to expire, but his unfortunate death has changed that.
I care deeply about my community. Most of my family and friends live in Iron County. I want to ensure that it is a safe place to live where people are treated fairly. I want my children and grandchildren to be proud of their community and proud that I had a hand in making it a better place to live.
One of the last things my grandfather (a cop for 25 years and retired Hurley Police Chief) said was that he hoped I would be a good judge someday. I hope to honor his wish.
Describe which case in the past 25 years by the Wisconsin Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court you believe had the greatest positive or negative impact on the people of Wisconsin or our democracy.
Although its full impact on the people of Wisconsin will not be known for years to come, I believe the recent ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019) is already having a negative impact and is likely to aggravate an already-bad situation. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering is a political matter beyond its review. The ruling left it to state legislatures to do as they please in drawing up political boundaries, at least with regard to the political make-up of each district.
The majority of Wisconsin’s voters already suffered a setback in Gill v. Whitford (2018), when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to decide a claim challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts, remanding it on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate standing. In the subsequent fall elections 54% of the votes in the Wisconsin State Assembly races went to Democrats, but Republicans were elected to 63 of the 99 seats. Thus, in a state where the majority voted for Democrats, including for Governor and Attorney General in statewide races, the Democratic minority in the Assembly is almost too small to even sustain a veto by the Governor. (66 votes required to override). The Rucho case has now rendered Gill moot. The courts will not decide on gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
This case has already emboldened the Republican majority which no doubt now sees an opportunity to further entrench its political power. They can now redistrict without fear of court intervention. Furthermore, some are openly discussing the possibility of redistricting by joint resolution in 2021. Such a measure would not require Governor Evers’ approval. Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court expressly held in 1964 that redistricting by joint resolution is unconstitutional, it is widely understood that conservatives have a majority of the seats on the Court today and could overturn that ruling. Thus, the Rucho case is already stirring things up in Wisconsin and could result in further political fights and court battles down the road.
The Wisconsin situation is further aggravated by the fact that the Republican legislature hired a private firm to draw up district boundaries back in 2011. This was done in secret, at taxpayer expense. There is now little incentive to stop that from happening again.
Because of gerrymandering in Wisconsin, the party voted for by the majority cannot carry out the wishes of those voters in the legislature. Furthermore, because gerrymandering results in individual districts with lopsided party advantages, voters in those districts don’t feel as compelled to vote because the legislative races are not in doubt. This can affect the outcomes in closer statewide races. The effect of Rucho v. Common Cause is to cement this status quo in place. The damage caused by this decision has been immediate and promises to be long-lasting.
"Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court expressly held in 1964 that redistricting by joint resolution is unconstitutional, it is widely understood that conservatives have a majority of the seats on the Court today and could overturn that ruling. " – Iron County Circuit Judge Anthony J Stella, Jr.
Identify two or three judges or justices whom you admire and explain why.
1. BENJAMIN CARDOZO
(U.S) Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo comes to mind not because he held any particular philosophy, but because of the number of landmark decisions he authored and the colorful way he wrote them. What is most impressive is that a dozen or more of his oft-cited, precedent-setting cases were authored while he was still a judge with the New York Court of Appeals. He decided many cases which broke new ground in torts and contract law, perhaps the most notable of which was MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., which ended the privity requirement in products liability cases. This paved the way for the concept of strict product liability years later.
2. JOHN PAUL STEVENS
I admire (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice John Paul Stevens for his willingness to evolve over his years on the bench, and for not being afraid to admit that he was wrong earlier and had changed his mind. He was appointed by Gerald Ford, yet eventually became known as the leader of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court. Shortly after his appointment by Ford he voted to reinstate the use of the death penalty, but decades later authored the decision in Baze v. Rees concluding that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Over the course of his career he also went from opposing affirmative action to supporting it, sometimes authoring vigorous dissents proclaiming the value of affirmative action. He was what I would call a “loud dissenter,” making sure the minority position was known and preserved for all time. I particularly remember his dissent in Bush v. Gore where he presciently warned that although we might never know the identity of the winner in that year’s presidential election, the loser was the nation’s confidence in judges as guardians of the rule of law.
3. RUTH BADER GINSBURG
(U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Ruth Bader Ginsburg is so widely respected that this choice might seem too obvious , but her accomplishments are too great to ignore here. I admire her for her determination and tenacity in first overcoming gender discrimination herself, and then working to ensure that others did not suffer from it. Even disregarding her assent to the highest court in the land, her life story is remarkable. She was one of only a handful of women there when she attended Harvard Law School and was criticized by the dean for “taking a man’s place.” She was rejected for a clerkship on the Supreme Court due to her gender, but eventually offered one. As a professor at Rutgers, she was paid less than the men because her husband had a well-paying job. Yet she succeeded everywhere and went on to successfully champion women’s rights in several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, she made it to the highest court herself, where she continues her legacy of upholding women’s rights and serves as a strong voice for the liberal side of the Court.
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