"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. Grammar mistakes and 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: Martha J. Milanowski
Appointed to: Vilas County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Sept. 1, 2021 (elected to a six-year term on April 5, 2022)
Law School – University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin-Madison
High School – Whitefish Bay High, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
January 2017-present – Vilas County district attorney, Vilas County, Wisconsin
September 2000-December 2016 – Vilas County corporation Counsel, Vilas County, Wisconsin
January 2000-August 2000 – Tribal attorney, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Watersmeet, Michigan
May 1998-December 1999 – Associate attorney, Johnson and Houlihan, S.C., Rhinelander, Wisconsin
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
State Bar of Michigan (lapsed)
General character of practice:
As District Attorney, I prosecute violations of state criminal laws, county ordinances, delinquency matters, various referrals from State agencies and also open meetings violations. I work with victims of crime and supervise a staff of five (one assistant prosecutor, three legal secretaries and one victim witness coordinator). My office recieves referrals from five different law enforcement agencies (Lac du Flambeau Police Department, Vilas County Sheriff, Eagle River Police Department, Wisconsin State Patrol and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). I am a member of the Zaagiibagaa Healing to Wellness Court, a diversion court and collaboration between the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and Vilas County Circuit Court, which meets weekly in Lac du Flambeau.
Describe typical clients:
I've been in the public sector for the majority of my career. Most recently I've focused on criminal prosecution. Before being elected as Vilas County District Attorney, I handled Vilas County's legal matters for over 16 years (legal counsel to the County Board and all its departments, child protective services cases, guardianships, mental and drug/alcohol commitments, zoning, child support). I worked for the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians for just eight months in the year 2000 as their attorney (I left for a more stable position closer to home), where I provided legal counsel to the Tribal Council/Tribal government and practiced in their Tribal Court. Finally, as a young lawyer I spent almost two years as an associate with a civil litigation firm where I worked for three partners assisting them with research, depositions, arguing motions and preparing for trials.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 5
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:
Vilas County v. Accola, 13CV152, 2014AP2688
State v. Kyle Austin, 18CF15 Vilas County Circuit Court
This case involved a knifing that occurred at a bar in Vilas County. I was the prosecutor on the case, which was ultimately tried to a jury. The victim intervened in a fight late one night at a bar (where many were drinking alcohol, however victim was not). Victim was stabbed by the defendant and almost lost his eye sight. My victim witness coordinator and I spent much time with the victim while the case was pending and we ended up getting a split verdict (not guilty of the substantial battery, guilty of disorderly conduct). This was my second jury trial as DA, the first one with a victim. The jury found that the defendant was justified in using self defense against the unarmed victim (as to the substantial battery). While I knew the risks associated with going to trial and had regularly talked about this with our victim, we put on the best case we could and had to trust the jury to get it right. While it was disappointing, I went away knowing that I did the best I could and that this is how the justice system is supposed to work; our victim was grateful for the effort and and for closure (he was also compensated by the Crime Victim Compensation Office for his injuries thankfully).
State v. Jeremiah Solis, 17CF235 Vilas County Circuit Court
In this case, the defendant, a 19 year old man with little criminal history, was convicted of Homicide by Negligent Handling of a Dangerous Weapon. I handled the case from charging decision through sentencing. The victim was also a 19 year old man, a son and brother. He was shot over Labor Day weekend in 2017 in Eagle River at an apartment where he had been hanging out with some friends, one of which was the defendant who decided to bring his newly purchased hand gun to show off. The group had been smoking marijuana that evening. The case was resolved by plea agreement, and the defendant was given an imposed and stayed prison sentence and put on probation with a year in jail (I was capped at recommending only what the presentence investigation recommended, which was exactly that). From charging decision through sentencing, this case challenged me, given the tragic and completely avoidable loss of life, and the fact that the victim's parents were hoping for the maximum sentence. On the opposite side of the courtroom we had a defendant's family who was hoping for leniency, and a defendant who never intended to kill his friend but made a horrible decision that night. I was subject to much criticism throughout the case, on both sides (not altogether uncommon for a DA). I received a thank you card from the victim's mother on Mother's Day the year following her son's death; I keep that card on my work bulletin board as a reminder of the important work we do on behalf of victims.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
In my first position as an associate attorney I represented employees in workers compensation hearings/appeals, and as Corporation Counsel I represented Vilas County in unemployment compensation hearings and harrassment/discrimination hearings before the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
Prior to Act 10 Vilas County had five unions, all of which had contracts. I was involved in both arbitrations and mediations as the County's legal counsel in matters of union negotiations/bargaining and grievances. I also was involved in mediations when I was in private practice as an associate with Johnson & Houlihan, as they would try to resolve many of their cases through mediation (personal injury).
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: N/A
Previous runs for public office:
Vilas County Corporation Counsel, appointed, September 2000-December 2016
Vilas County District Attorney, elected 2016 and 2020
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Jill Karofsky, Wisconsin Supreme Court, 2020
Eric Toney, Wisconsin Attorney General, 2021
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Tri-County Bar Association, June 1998-present; CLE organizer, 1999
North Woods Land Trust, founding board member, 2001-2004
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
I have been a member of St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Eagle River for over 20 years, and during that time I have served on their parish council including serving as council president and have also volunteered as a catechist and led a committee to create policy on safe and sacred environments. Throughout that time I have been a reader and a musician (both cantor and pianist/violinist/violist) and I volunteer at community events through the parish's social outreach committee. I also volunteered as a youth soccer and baseball coach during my kids' elementary school years and for the past 10 years.
Why I want to be a judge:
Applying for this judicial appointment is not a decision I take lightly. I am only in the first year of my second term as Vilas County District Attorney and in many ways I feel I have so much more to accomplish. However, timing is not something one can always control and after much careful consideration I have decided to throw my hat into the mix. After dedicating the majority of my career to serving the citizens of Vilas County, becoming the judge of my County would be an honor and an opportunity to serve Vilas County citizens in a way that requires the highest level of lawyering - having the final say when difficult decisions have to be made.
A judge holds the responsibility to impart justice each and every day and her decisions not only affect individuals in sometimes life-altering ways, they affect the community as a whole. My 23 years of legal practice have led me to the point where I am ready to serve in that role. Those who know me, both professionally and personally, know that I am understanding, fair, and committed to serving the good of the community. If appointed, I will use my extensive legal and life experience to make decisions that follow the law and promote justice in the court in the county I first called home in 1992 and have remained in since, other than my three years in law school. As corporation counsel for Vilas County, I was involved in many Chapter 51 civil commitments involving mental health, drug and alcohol struggles. That background can only assist me further given the interplay of these issues in many of the cases that come before the court, both in civil and criminal actions. The Court needs to address the underlying issues that contribute to many individuals finding themselves before the court, and incarceration is often not the solution. With two judges, Vilas County could look to establishing a Circuit Court-attached diversion court to further effectively address some of these issues, something that has not achievable in this one-judge county. I would work toward that effort.
My experience in both civil and criminal court will lend itself well if I am to take the bench, and my legal and analytical skills along with a strong work ethic will make me a quick and eager study in the few areas of the law in which I have not practiced. As District Attorney, I advocate for the community and public safety, seeking justice in each and every case. As a judge I would be the final gatekeeper of justice, holding the responsibility to follow the law and impact the lives of all who come into contact with the Court, maintaining impartiality all the while.
Throughout my career, I have always been an active listener, to my clients in private practice, to the County Board members and department heads, to victims, law enforcement officers, defense attorneys and citizens. I have always tried to proceed in whatever I'm doing by following the law and trying to achieve a just result, problem solving and in the case of criminal cases by achieving justice for the community as whole. As a Vilas County Circuit Court judge, I could continue in that fashion, using my good judgment, fairness and integrity in imparting justice from the bench.
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.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision in Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Walker, 2014 WI 99, had a significant impact on the people of Wisconsin, and depending on who you ask, the decision was both celebrated and chastised. As legal counsel for a county government at the time of Act 10 and the subsequent litigation that it brought about, I watched this case closely as it had significant ramifications on both staff, HR management and County government in general.
This was a divisive and controversial decision that upheld then Governor Walker's legislation regarding public sector unions and collective bargaining. The decision created incredible tension throughout the State, tension that was already present in 2011 at the time the legislation was enacted. Teachers and other government employees no longer had collective bargaining and public employers had to quickly react to put into place work rules and policy that had been handled for years by union contracts. This decision was the culmination of a legislative act that tore apart co-workers, families and governments. Proponents of the decision highlight savings that will be realized by governments and taxpayers, however those same governments, including schools and local governments, have now seen challenges associated with employee retention and recruitment due at least in part to the loss of bargaining agreement protections. With the Court upholding Act 10 in its entirety, collective bargaining in the public sector, other than for law enforcement, is tenuous at best, unless it comes back legislatively in the future. By putting an end to the legal challenges to Act 10, the finality of the decision will have a lasting impact on Wisconsin citizens. It greatly changed the landscape for public sector employees and employers alike, and it has strongly changed the conversation in the private sector as well. Ultimately it will have raised more important issues that it resolved.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
Justice Shirley Abrahamson
Shirley Abrahamson became Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court when I began my second year of law school. Having led the Court until April 2015, she became a role model for me throughout the first decade and a half of my legal career. She was appointed to the Supreme Court when I was six years old so I really cannot remember a time when she was not on the court. It was of course unfortunate to see the end of her service coincide with increased divisiveness and the controversy and subsequent litigation on how the Chief Justice is selected, however that in no way affects the overall impact of her service, her dedication to the law, her energy and enthusiasm, and her leadership on the Court. To serve as a justice for over 40 years exemplifies public service; as a public servant myself, I am very inspired by her career, her contribution, and the fact that she never stopped giving 100% as she got older and entered a third, then 4th decade on the court. She made herself accessible to law students, by teaching an occasional course at the law school. And from what I have read, she did not highlight the fact that she was the first woman justice on the court, she just saw herself as the new justice. Fast forward 45 years and it is no longer uncommon to see women on the court; they now make up the majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She wrote of her judicial philosophy as simply "to examine the facts, the law, and the precedent. You apply the facts to the law and the precedent as you understand them, and you reach a decision." She broke down the complexity of what she did into a very basic, common sense approach. She used that approach in the hundreds of opinions and dissents she authored. She believed in an independent judiciary. She also worked to establish court-related volunteer programs to make the courts more accessible to people and brought high school students into the court to see their operations firsthand.
Justice Abrahamson kept her intellectual and physical stamina past an age that many of us would have long since retired. She was essentially relentless with her dedication to the bench, to the law, and to making sure people's rights were protected during her service on the Court. A family member of mine who works at American Players Theater in Spring Green would see Justice Abrahamson at that theater from time to time, attending shows at their outdoor venue. One time she caught the eye of the justice and said that Justice Abrahamson noticed and then winked and smiled right back at her. She truly connected with people, both on the bench and off.
Justice N. Patrick Crooks
While I never knew Justice Crooks personally, my dad grew up with him and his siblings in Green Bay during the 1950s. When I was in law school, he was running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court; I learned more about him during that time due to my dad's friendship with him. I then had the opportunity to watch him while he served on the State Supreme Court. I came to greatly admire him, his general demeanor, how he became more moderate on the Court, not always predictable, and how his swing vote impacted many of the Court's decisions.
When I was admitted to the Bar back in June of 1998, my dad was by my side and moved for my admission separate from the group of students being sworn in. When he did so, Justice Crooks, who was right in front of us, waved his hand and said, nonchalantly, "Hi Ralph," as if we were at a friendly small gathering between friends. That experience made the Court real to me. While Justice Crooks certainly got involved in some controversial matters during his tenure on the Court, his overall service as a justice remains admirable to me. He struck me as somewhat of a peacemaker, maintaining impartiality and striving to apply the law to the facts.
The proper role of a judge:
At the beginning of each day, a judge comes to work with the potential of making life-altering decisions and the opportunity to make a difference in a person's or a community's life. Ultimately, the judge makes difficult decisions when all other avenues to resolve a dispute have failed. A judge must follow the law, apply the facts to the law, and render his or her decision. At the same time, a judge must maintain decorum in the courtroom, treat all participants in the court system with respect, be fair and administer justice without partiality. When an individual comes into court, they should expect nothing less. Judges may have to reign in an attorney from time to time and must figure out ways to run their court efficiently.
In court trials the judge herself must assess evidence presented, while in jury trials they ensure that the case is being conducted following the rules of the court and the rules of evidence and that the jury determines the facts. A judge must be an active listener but must also know when to move a matter along to maintain judicial efficiency. When pronouncing sentence in a criminal case, a judge must fashion a sentence that addresses the proper factors, taking into consideration the statement of the victim, the defense, the State, and using his or her discretion in such a way that promotes the goals of rehabilitation, reducing recidivism, protecting the public, and imposing the appropriate punishment. In turn the hope is that defendants will not find themselves in criminal court going forward but will ultimately return to being productive members of the community. A judge should have reverence for the rule of law and treating people fairly; each case that comes before the Court should be afforded proper attention and respect, from a small claims case to a homicide. Above all, a judge should strive to have all parties, even those who lose, leave the court knowing the rationale for the decision and confident that every effort was made to do justice.
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