"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: M. Joseph Donald
Appointed to: District 1 Court of Appeals
Appointment date: Sept. 4, 2019. (Election scheduled for April 2020)
Law School – Marquette University Law School
Undergraduate – Marquette University
High School – Shorewood High School
St. Lawrence Seminary
Recent legal employment:
1996 - present – Milwaukee County circuit judge
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
Wisconsin State Courts
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
General character of practice before becoming a judge: Worked as a Milwaukee assistant city attorney from 1989 to 1996, handling tax foreclosures, bankruptcies, property tax assessments, unemployment compensation and ordinance violations. Also handled disciplinary hearings before the Fire and Police Commission.
Describe typical clients: Represented various city department heads and city employees, including those in the Treasure's Office, the Department of City Development, the City Assessor's Office and the Fire and Police Departments. Represented the city in prosecuting people in Municipal and Circuit Court.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Seven as city attorney
List up to five cases in which you participated as a judge or lawyer in the past seven years:
State v. Johnnie J. – I presided over the jury trial and dispositional hearing, and entered orders terminating Johnnie's parental rights to her children.
State v. Antonio Smith – I presided over the jury trial and sentencing of defendant Smith on multiple counts of first degree intentional homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide.
State v. Mickey Miller – I presided over the jury trial and motion to dismiss the armed robbery and false imprisonment charges.
State v. Bailey – I presided over the multiple count jury trial and motions that resulted in a conviction of guilty on felon in possession of a firearm and acquittal on others.
State v. Akim Brown – I presided over the post-conviction motion.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies.
Throughout my career as a Milwaukee City Attorney, I was involved in many administrative proceedings, which included The Board of Review for tax assessments; State of Wisconsin Unemployment Compensation Proceedings; and the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.
My most notable administrative proceeding took place in 1991 before the Fire and Police Commission and involved the disciplinary proceedings of Milwaukee Police Officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish for failing to properly investigate serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and one of his victims.
Konerak Sinthasomphone was a 14-year-old Laotian immigrant, who had escaped Dahmer's apartment and ran out into the neighborhood. Bystanders called police. When Officers Balcerzak and Gabrish arrived on the scene, Sinthasomphone was disoriented, naked and bleeding.
Dahmer managed to convince the officers that Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old gay lover. Without investigating the circumstances further, the officers returned the boy to Dahmer's custody, inside Dahmer's apartment.
Meanwhile, three African-American women were also on the scene when Sinthasomphone escaped and tried to convince the officers that something was wrong.
What made this case so noteworthy was the pretrial evidentiary rulings with respect to what evidence was available for use. For example, there were hundreds of photographs of Dahmer's apartment; recordings of the officers' radio transmissions; employment histories of the police officers; and the police department's internal affairs investigation reports.
Marquette Law Professor Dan Blinka was the hearing examiner and set a very aggressive scheduling order for these pretrial issues to be resolved. At the same time, there was community pressure on the commission from the Mayor John Norquist's office, the Milwaukee Police Association and the public at large.
Previous runs for political office: Successful campaigns for Circuit Court in 1997, 2003, 2009, 2015; unsuccessful run for Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2016.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Donated $20 to State Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) in 2015.
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last six years:
It has been my practice to endorse incumbent judges or judicial candidates who would bring diversity to the bench.
(Note - Donald did not provide requested information, which includes each endorsed candidate's name, office sought, and year of endorsement.)
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, Board member, 2014 to present
Milwaukee County Historical Society, Board member, 2017 to present
Urban Day School, Board member, 2000 to present
American Constitution Society, member, 2016 to present
Milwaukee Bar Association, 1996 to present
State Bar of Wisconsin, member, 1988 to present
Milwaukee Area Technical College, Board member, 1990 to 1994
Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Board member, 2000 to 2005
Harambee Community School, Board member, 1996 to 2000
Marquette Law School Alumni Board, Board member/president, 2003 to 2007
Juvenile Corrections Study Committee, member, July, 2018 to October, 2018
Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Board member, 1996 to 2000
Next Act Theater, Board member, 1993 to 1996
Race, Equity, and Procedural Justice, member, 2014 to present
Department of Children and Families, Advisory Committee member, 2018 to present
State Bar of Wisconsin, Mass/Disparate Incarceration Committee, 2018 to present
State Supreme Court, Policy and Planning Committee, 2015 to present
American Cancer Society, Ambassador board member, 2015 to 2016
Elected or appointed public offices:
Milwaukee Area Technical College Board, 1991 to 1994 – elected by Board.
Milwaukee Housing Authority, 2014 to present – appointed by Common Council
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
Involvement in business interests:
Board member, Travaux Inc., real estate development (Milwaukee Housing Authority). I am prepared to resign from Travaux.
Why I want to be a judge –
I want to serve the people of Wisconsin as a Court of Appeals Judge because I want to ensure that our courts are fair, impartial and free from the influence of special interests and politics. If our courts become too closely aligned with our legislative and executive branches, citizens can become victims of the system.
During my 23 years as a circuit judge, I have observed significant changes in our approaches to addressing crime, and I believe some of these changes were influenced by political policy and special interests.
One of these changes occurred early in my judicial career, when the legislature adopted tough-on-crime policies known as “truth in sentencing” with the purported intent of reducing crime.
However, implementing these policies had a disproportionate impact on our state’s poor and minority communities and caused our state’s incarceration rates to quadruple. In addition, these policies had little effect on reducing crime or recidivism. In fact, by the time people finished serving their sentences, they were often more marginalized and disconnected from society than before entering prison, which made them more likely to reoffend.
A positive change I helped implement has been the introduction of Milwaukee County’s treatment courts, which provide services to help people overcome the mental health conditions and addictions that often play a role in criminal behavior. By addressing these underlying issues, treatment courts help correct the behavior of those who can be corrected. This therapeutic approach has not only had a positive effect on reducing crime, it has also strengthened families and communities while significantly reducing our state’s incarceration rates. As such, it has been an effective use of our state’s financial resources.
I would like to bring the insights and problem-solving skills I gained at the trial court level to the appellate level to ensure that the right questions get asked when cases are appealed: Did the trial court protect citizens’ rights? Did it apply the correct legal standard? Did it exercise its discretion, or was there some subjective bias?
One way to ensure that these questions are addressed adequately is for the Court of Appeals to expand the opportunity for oral argument by giving both the court and counsel an opportunity to explore alternative outcomes and rationales.
By keeping our judiciary independent, I want the people of Wisconsin to believe that our courts are a legitimate institution: They belong to us, “we the people.” People can trust that our courts will protect their rights under the Constitution, provide justice for all, and remain “the crown jewel of our democracy.”
Identify two or three judges or justices whom you admire and explain why –
Three judges I greatly admire are Hon. Richard D. Cudahy, who served on the U.S Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court; and Justice Thurgood Marshall, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I first met Judge Cudahy when I was a young child and my mother worked as a housekeeper for the Cudahy family. She would bring me to work with her and I would play with Judge and Mrs. Cudahy’s son, who was a year older than me.
My mother continued to work for the Cudahy family as it grew to include five children. During my high school years, my parents and I moved into the Cudahy’s coach house, which enabled me to attend Shorewood High School.
Judge Cudahy became a mentor to me before I knew what that word meant. Over the years, Judge Cudahy became a friend and second father to me. He helped nurture my interest in the law and swore me in at my investiture 23 years ago.
I admired Judge Cudahy for his tremendous intellect and thoroughly enjoyed our conversations about the law, politics and life itself.... He taught me that judges need to do more than simply hear legal arguments; they must also understand them.
By keeping our judiciary independent, I want the people of Wisconsin to believe that our courts are a legitimate institution: They belong to us, “we the people.” – District 1 Court of Appeals Judge M. Joseph Donald
Justice Shirly (sic) Abrahamson became the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court around the time I became a circuit court judge. As a young judge, I admired her for her encouragement and warmth in welcoming me to the bench.
Over the years, my admiration grew for several reasons: She was the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court; she persistently fought for judicial independence and citizens’ rights; and her leadership helped bring national recognition to our Wisconsin court system.
More recently, I admired her for her tenacity when a Republican-led legislature and governor sought to remove her as the chief justice by changing a 150-year-old provision of the State Constitution.
I believe her fight for judicial independence and citizens’ rights will continue to benefit our state for generations to come.
As an African-American myself, I admire Thurgood Marshall for becoming the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice. In this role, he managed to use his voice to uphold the liberal wing of the Supreme Court against the conservative shift of the 1970s. His opinions helped empower ordinary citizens, including minorities and the poor.
In the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, he championed the notion that segregation of white and black children violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Describe the proper role of a judge –
I believe the courts are an important branch of our government and provide an essential balance of power by offering a check on abuses by the executive and legislative branches.
As such, I believe the proper role of a judge is to be accountable to the Constitution, both Federal and State, and the Bill of Rights, by ensuring that all people have access to justice, which includes the right to be heard and understood, and that the laws will be applied properly and fairly to all—regardless of their race, religion, gender, social status, sexual orientation or party affiliation.
All too often, people who are brown, black or poor feel they are not treated fairly by judges and, therefore, have little faith in our courts. I believe judges need to be aware of this perception and make every effort to treat everyone who comes before them with dignity and respect....
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