Evers' judges: Elizabeth Rohl
"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: Elizabeth Rohl
Appointed to: Pierce County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Dec. 22, 2020
Law School – Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin-Madison
High School – River Falls High, River Falls, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
January 2013-present – Assistant corporation counsel, St. Croix County Office of Corporation Counsel
January 2011-December 2012 – Assistant district attorney, St. Croix County District Attorney’s Office
March 2010-December 2010 – Attorney, Hammarback & Jacobson, S.C., River Falls, Wisconsin
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
State Bar of Minnesota (lapsed)
General character of practice:
I am currently Assistant Corporation Counsel for St. Croix County. I represent the County and the public interest in a variety of civil actions. My practice is split between courtroom work and transactional work. Based on the current staffing of our office, I am the primary attorney for matters involving involuntary mental commitments, termination of parental rights, and HIPAA compliance. I share responsibility for child support enforcement, contract review, open records compliance, and providing legal advice to county departments.
Describe typical clients:
Our client is St. Croix County. Depending on the circumstances of the case we may be representing the interests of the County, a particular county department, or the interests of the public. My specializations are detailed above.
Number of cases tried to verdict: Approximately 10-15 jury trials; numerous court trials
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:
Without a doubt the most significant cases in my legal career have been the termination of parental rights (TPR) cases. These cases may not be significant to the public--given the confidential nature of the cases, the public will likely never know anything about them. But they are significant to me and, I like to think, significant to the families involved.
Our office took over responsibility for these cases on behalf of St. Croix County in 2016 and the gravity of what is at stake is always at the front of my mind. Some of these cases end quickly, others are contested and take much longer. Regardless of which path the case takes, there is no greater feeling as an attorney than being able to attend the adoption hearing and to see the joy, relief, and excitement in the faces of the children and their "new" families.
The first TPR case I filed involved three children who had been bounced around between their parents, family members, and foster families for almost a decade before we (I represented the Department of Children Services as petitioner) filed for termination. The discovery materials required several bankers boxes and I spent months pouring over the details of the neglect these children suffered. The case was filed in April 2016 and resulted in a three-day jury trial in January 2017. The jury found grounds to terminate the parental rights of the children's mother (the only parent who participated in the proceedings). Following the dispositional hearing in February the court determined that it was in the children's best interests to terminate the parents' rights. All three children were adopted by their foster families.
With many of my other cases we see history repeat itself--we keep coming back to court with the same issues. The ability to make a lasting, meaningful change for children is the most rewarding thing I have been able to do as an attorney and therefore these cases carry great significance for me.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
When the Department of Children Services substantiates a finding of child abuse or neglect the subject of the substantiation has the option to appeal that decision. Those appeals are heard by the Division of Hearing and Appeals for the State of Wisconsin. I represent Children Services in those appeals. Depending on the nature of the subject's challenge, some of these cases are resolved. Others result in an adversary hearing before the Administrative Law Judge. I have been involved in 10 such appeals.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
Our office represents the Child Support Agency in child support enforcement. This involves establishing or modifying child support, establishing paternity, and potentially contempt for non-payment. In St. Croix County we will schedule pre-court conferences with the parties to attempt to have the parties stipulate. This involves explaining the process and the statutory arguments the parties could make as well as trying to mediate between the two parents.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Volunteer for Joe Boles, Pierce County Circuit Court
Volunteer for Amber Hahn, St. Croix District Attorney
Previous runs for public office: None
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Joe Boles, Pierce County Circuit Court, 2010
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
St. Croix Valley Bar Association, 2010 to present; officer, 2010-2014
Wisconsin Child Support Association, 2013 to present; Legal Track Committee, 2020
Wisconsin Association of County Corporation Counsel, 2013 to present
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
When I was an officer of our local bar association we became interested in the hosting a Wills for Heroes event. Wills for Heroes was a program that already existed wherein attorneys would volunteer their time to draft basic wills and power of attorney documents for first responders. All clinics that were being advertised where in the southern or eastern parts of the state. Upon reaching out, it appeared that there would be hurdles in getting the program to come to our area. Instead, we worked with the State Bar and local attorneys to get donations for our own equipment to run our own clinics. … I am no longer involvement in the administration of that program, but still volunteer at clinics.
Why I want to be a judge – The court system provides a valuable service to the communities in Wisconsin—resolving disputes, safeguarding the public, and ensuring proper protections for the most vulnerable citizens. However, the court system is only as good as the judges who serve. The people of Wisconsin and of Pierce County deserve a judge who can discharge those important duties fairly, quickly, and appropriately and I believe that I have that ability. I have a background in criminal law, both as defense and prosecution. In addition to transactional work like contracts and open records requests, my work in the Office of Corporation Counsel has given me experience in unique areas of law including involuntary mental commitments, guardianships, and termination of parental rights. My diverse experience in the practice of law means that I will be able to handle all the duties of a judge in all the variety of cases before the court.
Not only do I believe I have the experience to execute the duties, but I am passionate about my community and continuing to serve the public interest. I have a strong connection to Pierce County—I grew up here, graduated from high school here, and now am raising my own family here. My father grew up here as well and then we went on to spend his career as a middle school science teacher, also here in Pierce County. The community is made of my friends, my family, my neighbors. Serving as a judge allows me to give back to a community that has given me so much in a way that not everyone is able.
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.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. . . Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
This closing paragraph of Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 highlights the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision in the lives of many of Wisconsin citizens. Before this decision, there was a string of legislation and case law that gave tokens toward equality but each of them always kept those relationships as something “other.” However, this decision clearly holds that the Constitution dictates that States must allow same-sex couples to marry and to have those marriages recognized in other states and providing, finally, equal dignity.
The Court accurately expressed the ways in which the right to marry is fundamental, one of which is safeguarding children and families. The Court noted that without recognition of marriages between homosexual couples as the same as heterosexual couples, those children would suffer the stigma “knowing their families are somehow lesser” causing harm and humiliation.
A decision such as this will no doubt have an impact on homosexual couples in Wisconsin and their families. Moreover, a decision that precludes arbitrary differences between segments of the population also serves to solidify that all citizens, of Wisconsin and the United States, are equal in the eyes of the law. That serves to benefit everyone, not just those directly affected by the Court’s decision.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
It would be impossible for me to answer this question without including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a woman in the practice of law, I have occasionally felt lingering sexism—being referred to a “sweetie” or clients asking when the attorney is going to show up despite being told I am the attorney. My experiences pale in comparison to what Justice Ginsburg would have faced upon entering law school and throughout her ascent to the highest court. Her tenacity alone is admirable. After being rejected for a Supreme Court clerkship because she was a woman she persisted, ultimately earning her seat on the Court. Not only is the achievement admirable, but the manner in which she earned it is as well.
Often quoted, Justice Ginsburg once said, “[f]ight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Justice Ginsburg was a tireless advocate for women’s rights but never asked for special treatment, only equal treatment. Her life and career can serve as an inspiration for generations of women, following her lead. Since her recent passing, there have been many articles written about her many accomplishments. Some I knew, some I’d forgotten, and some I never realized. She was a brilliant legal mind whose decisions will be cited for years to come but her legacy will continue as much more than that.
I also admire and respect St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham. When I started my career, there was much I didn’t know about the practice of law and I welcomed the guidance of Judge Needham. In his 26 years on the bench, Judge Needham has gained considerable expertise in the law and that is apparent in the decisions he makes. Judge Needham’s expertise led to his being named Trial Judge of the Year in 2010, recognizing his skill and accomplishment. What is readily apparent about Judge Needham is his dedication to the integrity of the court system and his service to the people of Wisconsin. Ever willing to step into leadership roles, Judge Needham is currently the presiding judge in St. Croix County and served as the Chief Judge of the Tenth Judicial District. Recently, when considering a campaign for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, Judge Needham opted to stay in St. Croix County, stating that he thinks he found his calling in the trial court. I certainly believe that to be true.
The proper role of a judge:
I found myself struggling to answer this question and I think the reason is simple—there is no one proper role for a judge. The wide range of cases that come before a court require that the judge adapt to a number of different roles. If presiding over a jury trial, the judge must act as a referee of sorts, applying and enforcing the rules of evidence. In a court trial, the judge must as a trier-of-fact, weighing the evidence and testimony to decide the “truth.” In cases involving vulnerable citizens (guardianships and mental commitments, for example) the judge adopts almost a parental role, trying to craft solutions that are best for the individual even if they don’t like it. And, in the increasing arena of treatment courts, the judge must step down from an authoritative role to act as a collaborative team member and motivator.
No matter the role needed at the time, I believe it is of the utmost importance for the judge to maintain the integrity of the court system. In order to do so, the judge must remain impartial and apply the existing laws to the case before the court. Regardless of personal beliefs about an issue, a judge should not rule based on how the law should be, but rather what the law is. The judicial system serves as a check to ensure fair process for all litigants, not to legislate from the bench.
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