Evers' judges: Jacob B. Frost
"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.
Name: Jacob B. Frost
Appointed to: Dane County Circuit Court
Appointment date: June 5, 2020 (elected April 2021)
Law School – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin-Madison
High School – Lincoln High, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Recent legal employment:
January 2019-present – Partner with Boardman & Clarke LLP, Madison
July 2010-December 2018 – Associate attorney with Boardman & Clarke
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
Western District of Wisconsin – district and bankruptcy court
Eastern District of Wisconsin – district and bankruptcy court
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
General character of practice:
I primarily practice civil litigation and family law at all stages of disputes, from attempting to resolve the dispute without litigation through trial and post-judgment disputes. I also handle appeals as they come up in my cases. Further, I represent clients in administrative proceedings on landlord/tenant matters, including fair housing complaints, as well as in DATCP (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection) investigations for both landlord/tenant matters and dealership matters.
Describe typical clients:
Landlord/Tenant – I represent landlords. My main client manages a variety of subsidized housing, which involves issues under federal law in addition to state law. I also represent market rate landlords in lease drafting, eviction, DATCP investigations, and equal housing proceedings in the ERD (Equal Rights Division of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development). Family law – My clients include men and women in divorce and post-divorce proceedings. Collection law – I generally represent businesses seeking payment of debts from other businesses. Some of my collections are for individuals, businesses and banks to collect against individuals. This area also involves practicing in bankruptcy court to protect creditor’s rights. My general civil litigation most often includes representing businesses on various issues, but on many cases also includes representing individuals.
Number of cases tried to verdict: Zero to a jury. Dozens to the court.
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:
I participated in a pro bono project to represented (sic) a victim of domestic abuse to secure a domestic abuse injunction against her prior boyfriend. DAIS (Domestic Abuse Intervention Services) and Quarles & Brady administer the program. DAIS handles filing the case. I handled the trial. The decision was then appealed, and I assisted in defending the injunction on appeal. Judge Stephen Ehlke presided in Dane County Circuit Court and granted the injunction to my client. His decision was upheld on appeal, with the Court of Appeals decision issued April 16, 2020.
This representation was significant to me for three reasons. One, assisting a victim of abuse to secure an injunction so she could again feel safe was perhaps the strongest example of any case I handled where the outcome was absolutely essential to my client and emphasized the importance of our legal system – to secure justice and protect people. Two, Judge Ehlke ran his courtroom incredibly efficiently while still ensuring fairness to all. Judge Ehlke had a series of injunction trials with perhaps 15 minutes set for each. He maximized this short time by leading the direct examination while still allowing all sides to present evidence. This example of how to run a courtroom is one I intend to learn from and use as a judge. Third, appeals are fairly rare so always special. Being able to defend the circuit court ruling on appeal was very rewarding and enjoyable, as the legal research and brief writing involved on appeal is challenging and fun.
I defended a landlord from a baseless discrimination complaint filed by an unhappy applicant. The proceedings started in the ERD. At the probable cause level, ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) John Carlson dismissed the claim as baseless. While the ERD proceeding was pending (after hearing and briefing, but before the ALJ's decision), Petitioner filed a lawsuit before Judge Niess in Dane County Circuit Court. In it, he sued ALJ Carlson for taking too long to issue a decision and sued my client asserting the same claims as in the ERD. Judge Niess dismissed the lawsuit on summary judgment, holding that the ALJ decision was entitled to preclusive effect and barred the claim from being asserted a second time in court. The petitioner then appealed Judge Niess' decision and my client prevailed on appeal.
This case was unique because it went before three decision makers. I was able to defend my client in administrative, circuit court and appellate proceedings. This case also stands out in my mind as highlighting that a baseless claim can cause incredible expense and hassle to an innocent party.
Therefore, it is crucial that our legal system operate efficiently to dismiss baseless claims at the earliest possible point. ALJ Carlson, Judge Niess and the Court of Appeals each did just that, ensuring the toll on my client was minimized, though the effort and expense was still tremendous. That is how the legal system should work and will be my philosophy as a Judge — to maintain an efficient courtroom with as little unnecessary delay and expense as possible, while always ensuring a fair proceeding for all parties.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
I represented clients in employment discrimination and housing discrimination claims in the ERD. I assisted clients in mediation of consumer complaints through DATCP, as well as assisted clients in responding to Civil Investigative Demands issued by DATCP and working with DATCP to resolve any concerns about my client's conduct. Those DATCP proceedings involved both landlords and dealership clients. I also appeared in Madison on a rent abatement mediation for a landlord.
Lastly, I am currently assisting a landlord in a municipal complaint for housing code violations, working with the landlord to resolve the violations to the satisfaction of the City of Madison.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
I volunteer as a mediator for the Dane County Bar Case Mediation Program for family law disputes. I have conducted I believe 5 or 6 mediations in that program. I estimate that 80% of my lawsuits go to mediation, and the majority of those resolve at mediation. Almost all of my divorce actions attempt mediation if we cannot settle directly, and the majority of those resolve in mediation. I also use mediation/arbitration in certain family law proceedings, where we start in mediation then switch to arbitration when mediation is unsuccessful.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
None since college. In college I volunteered for a variety of general Democratic party phone banks, as well as for Russ Feingold’s campaign in 2004. I cannot specifically recall, but believe I volunteered for Governor Doyle’s re-election campaign in 2006.
Previous runs for public office: None
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Judge Jill Karofsky for Wisconsin Supreme Court, 2020
Judge Lisa Neubauer for Wisconsin Supreme Court, 2019
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Dane County Bar Association, treasurer, July 2019-present
State Bar-Bar Relations Committee, 2014-present
Access to Independence, treasurer, secretary, VP and president, 2012-2018
Community Around the Children’s Hospital, 2014-2016
Leadership Greater Madison, 2015
State Bar Leadership Development Summit, inaugural class, 2013
National Association of Dealer Counsel, 2020
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
I volunteer at least twice yearly for the Small Claims Assistance Program at the Dane County courthouse, assisting pro se parties in understanding the process and procedures for small claims and providing general guidance in completing the relevant court forms.
I participate in the State Bar Lawyer Hotline service through my firm. 1 or 2 times yearly I call persons as directed by the State Bar to provide general guidance on legal questions, usually calling 4 or 5 persons each time.
I represented a victim of domestic abuse at trial and on appeal to secure and defend a domestic abuse injunction. Trial was in April 2019 and the appeal decision was issued on 4/16/2020.
I represented two different inmates on referrals from the Western District of Wisconsin to our firm. The lawsuits were filed by the inmates, but referred for counsel after the District Judge deemed the claims likely to have merit. Both lawsuits involved claims for violation of the client's right to receive proper medical treatment while in prison. One resolved by settlement just before trial, the other due to the tragic death of the client.
I was a guest lecturer at the UW Law School Lawyering Skills Class teaching landlord/tenant law to law students in March 2020 for 3 days.
Why I want to be a judge — First, I want to use my position as Judge to maximize parties’ access to counsel and the Court. Though a problem bigger than any one judge, I have witnessed firsthand that a judge’s innocuous decisions greatly affect access to counsel and the court. For example, requiring parties and counsel to appear in person for a scheduling conference or status conference that could easily be conducted by phone can greatly increase the cost of going to court. This is especially true when multiple appearances are required, as is often the case during a family law proceeding. I have experienced parties deciding to let go of counsel or discontinue a meritorious pursuit because it becomes unaffordable. Increasing the cost to access our courts guarantees two things: our poorer citizens will have less access to justice or to counsel. Paying an attorney for 30 minutes to an hour for time spent travelling to court and sitting in court can cost hundreds of dollars, when a 15-minute phone call is just a fraction of that expense. A party missing hours or a ½ day of work may prevent participation in court at all, particularly for low income persons. I will run my courtroom to minimize these unnecessary expenses and impediments to accessing the legal system, expenses that disproportionately harm the poor. I will also strive to convince my colleagues in Dane County and throughout the State to do the same.
Second, I want to bring new diversity to the Bench. Our courts lack almost any diversity of physical ability and the unique perspectives a Judge with such diversity brings to the courtroom. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy and have used a power wheelchair most of my life. My entire life I contended with the unique challenges a significant physical disability creates. Doing so taught me a deep degree of patience, an understanding of the importance of the challenges we all face in life, and most importantly, an unwavering appreciation for the help of others. This appreciation extends to those who help me in every courthouse I practice in. Though most have an automatic door to enter the building, none have similar accommodations to enter other areas including the literal doors to the courtrooms. I ask and receive help managing those doors, moving chairs or tables to sit at counsel’s bench, and from clients and bailiffs who help me move my files. Bailiffs also assist me in distributing exhibits. As a Judge, I understand and will view my role in part as being there to help the parties before me. After all, the reason most parties come to court is to secure help on some issue. I will also bring these lessons of respect, patience and appreciation to my courtroom and to raise discussion amongst judges regarding how to make our legal system more inclusive for all, including those with physical limitations.
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.
Rucho v. Common Cause, 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019), stands out as particularly damaging to the people of Wisconsin for at least two reasons. As background, this case effectively decided that federal courts cannot address the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. This came after years of the Supreme Court dancing around the edges of this issue but not finding a solution and effectively nullified those efforts to find a way to address the issue by effectively declaring partisan gerrymandering beyond the reach of our federal courts.
As Gill v. Whitford, also decided by the US Supreme Court, explained, partisan gerrymandering is a problem in Wisconsin, as Wisconsin’s 2011 district maps were gerrymandered specifically, and quite effectively, to improve the ability of Republicans to win a majority in the State Assembly and Senate, as well as in the federal districts for the House of Representatives. Democrats in Wisconsin have suffered nearly 10 years now from having their vote count less, or arguably not at all in some cases, because of unfairly formed districts. However, this does not harm only Democrats, as gerrymandering can be used by either party. The Supreme Court’s refusal to address extreme partisan gerrymandering effectively stamped the US Supreme Court’s approval on both political parties interfering with the right to vote based solely on political affiliation.
The first way this decision harms Wisconsinites is because it allows attack against the very foundation of our republic – that we elect our officials – by nullifying the idea that every person’s vote should count equally. Having your vote count of course cannot mean that your preferred candidate always wins, but it MUST mean that your vote will not be intentionally diluted because of your political beliefs to maintain an unfair political advantage. If we cannot trust that all votes are fairly counted, how can our system stand as legitimate and fair? Citizens must live with the fact that the other party will win some elections and you will disagree with their decisions at times. Citizens must not be prevented from ever having a fair shot to elect the person they prefer from the outset.
The second reason this decision damages Wisconsinites is that the Supreme Court handcuffed the federal judicial system from helping victims of extreme partisan gerrymandering. As the dissent in Rucho notes, contrary to the majority’s insistence there is no workable judicial solution to the partisan gerrymandering problem, federal district courts were actively implementing judicial solutions that were fair and non-partisan. For the Supreme Court to handcuff federal courts, which so often have stood as the last bastion of civil rights, is shocking and terrifying. If our courts cannot protect the right to vote against partisan attack, who will? What else will the Supreme Court declare beyond the protection of our judicial system? How can Wisconsinites trust the legitimacy of the federal judiciary when it refuses to even try to protect this right to vote? Our courts must stand for something more.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
Judge Richard Niess of Dane County has long provided the example of what I want from a Judge. Judge Niess is always 110% prepared for every hearing, having reviewed the pleadings and considered the legal issues ahead of time. He uses hearings effectively to obtain the answers needed to resolve each issue. He minimizes, if not eliminates, wasted time on irrelevant issues. Judge Niess proactively requests briefing on issues he identifies that were not addressed already, protecting counsel from being blindsided by questions on issues not researched, saving the embarrassment of not knowing the answer in front of your client while also allowing counsel to research the answer. This ensures fairness and efficiency in court.
Clients also see that Judge Niess treats the issues before him as important and wants to correctly apply the law to the facts. This increases my client’s feeling that, even if we lost on the issue, the hearing was fair. An unprepared judge does the opposite, leaving clients feeling as though their time was wasted and the decision unfair, even if it was correct. I will bring this same devotion to preparation and properly applying the law to every case. Judge Niess also does not shy away from doing what is right even on high profile cases, rather than swaying to public or political pressure. Judges must do this to maintain trust in the legal system.
Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky also holds my admiration. Her background is in criminal law and she volunteers to parties and counsel when she is not an expert and asks for citation to the laws she must apply. In a family law matter with real estate and contempt issues and in an eviction trial involving state and federal concerns for subsidized housing, Judge Karofsky took time during the hearing to retire to chambers to review the law and then applied it to reach the correct result under the facts.
That eviction also showed me that Judge Karofsky was never motivated by political or personal benefit. That case occurred during her campaign for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Surely evicting a low-income tenant would make a negative campaign ad, yet her election never entered her mind. She applied the facts and law exactly correctly, issuing eviction as the facts warranted. I admire that. Every litigant deserves to have his or her case decided on the facts and law without worry about the Judge’s personal preference or convenience. I will bring that same attitude of fairness and impartiality to my courtroom, as well as the same willingness to admit when I am not an expert. I will put in the time and effort to learn the law when it is beyond the scope of my knowledge.
The proper role of a judge:
The circuit court judge is the gatekeeper to justice and most directly controls whether each case is conducted fairly and impartially. He or she must promptly dismiss cases that lack support, yet must devote the hours of work, in and out of court, to ensure justice in those cases that require years of effort in pretrial motions and ultimately trial. A judge must allow all parties to create a clean, clear record for appeal, while also effectively managing the courtroom to minimize errors. The Judge must faithfully review the facts and apply the law to them so that an appeal is not needed.
It is a unique role. Only the circuit court judge rules on objections AT TRIAL, stops improper conduct of witnesses or lawyers AT TRIAL before it taints the proceeding, and evaluates witnesses AT TRIAL to determine credibility. The circuit court judge must nimbly apply the law, which requires devotion to learning the law before entering the courtroom. He or she does not enjoy the benefit an appellate judge or justice has, having ample time to review the record and the law over weeks or months. I love that aspect of litigation – being in court, observing the numerous happenings all at once, reacting in real time as objections are made, new facts responded to and new legal issues addressed. It is thrilling and will be exciting every day I come to court.
The circuit court judge must also ensure laws are followed. Most cases will never reach an appellate court, much less the Supreme Court. A circuit court judge is often the only person enforcing our laws. He protects a tenant from an unlawful eviction. She decides whether an injunction is appropriate. He ensures court orders are followed, regardless who is ignoring the orders. She is the face of the judiciary to most citizens, who will never appear before an appellate court judge or justice. Circuit court judges most directly affect the faith each litigant has in our judicial system.
Connected to that last point, a final proper role I want to bring as judge is as an active community member. I suspect most Dane County citizens cannot name even 1 circuit court judge. Part of that is public indifference, but part is that our judges are not actively in the community. Judges should participate with the communities they serve. Judges should speak with students in our schools, interact with business groups who often use our courts, and interact with all members of the community, rich or poor, weak and powerful. Judges as ambassadors to the community outside of the courtroom will, I believe, increase the community’s trust in the value and impartiality of our courts. It will also provide me, as judge, a broader perspective and understanding of my role in the community and better learn how to ensure the public believes our courts are fair.
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