"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: Patricia A. Baker
Appointed to: Portage County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Dec. 7, 2020 (elected to a six-year term in April 2022)
Law School – University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
Undergraduate – University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota
High School – La Crosse Central High, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
March 2017-present – Private practice attorney, Kessler & Greer Law Office/ALR LLC, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
November 2011-March 2017 – Clerk of Circuit Court, Portage County, Wisconsin
December 2009-November 2011 – Assistant city attorney (part-time), Wausau, Wisconsin
October 2007-November 2011 – Assistant district attorney (part-time), Waushara County, Wisconsin
November 2005-December 2009 – Solo practioner, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
March 2000-November 2005 – Assistant district attorney, Marathon County, Wisconsin
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
General character of practice:
Approximately 30 percent is CPS (child protective services) and APS (adult protective services) Chips and guardianship matters - both as adverse counsel (parents and ward) and guardian ad litem work including Protective Placement reviews and initial petition matters. Another 30 percent is representation of parties in divorces and post-judgment work. I also work as a guardian ad litem in family cases. Approximately 30 percent is representation in criminal matters: felony, misdemeanor and probation revocation.
I work in four counties: Portage; Wood; Marathon and Waupaca. I have several civil matters and administrative review matters with WI. Dept of Families. I am also a Portage County Family Court mediator and conduct one to two mediations each month, as well as mediations for other types of matters.
Describe typical clients:
I am court-appointed in many cases however have many private clients in all of the above categories, as well. With regards to my criminal cases, I have slightly more female clients than male which is my choice. I believe that women frequently have different needs and goals in criminal court which are frequently not met by male attorneys. I also have multiple Legal Aid Society appointments where I represent indigent women in family cases.
Number of cases tried to verdict: Approximately 40-50 criminal and CPS jury 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:
1) K. S. was a Marathon County criminal case involving a young woman who was a child sexual assault survivor and a sexual exploitation victim. Many survivors have a tumultuous experience with law enforcement, and she was no different. When I met K.S. she was in jail having been arrested for residing with a drug dealer and having distribution quantity drugs and weapons located in her home. She was held in custody on a $10,000 cash bond. Our initial meeting was 2½ hours. It was clear she had made many poor choices based on an elementary need for companionship. She and I identified a strong support network for her - however they were all located in Milwaukee. I needed to get her out of the jail and to a place where she could receive the support and accountability that would set her up for success. My client had a significant criminal record. The District Attorney was seeking a lengthy prison sentence. He was opposed to her release on bond citing potential for escape, for non-appearance, potential for new crimes etc. I also needed to convince the judge, the former District Attorney, to reverse her decision to impose a $10,000 cash bond - something wholly unobtainable for my client.
We held a contested evidentiary motion hearing to modify her bond in 2019. I had multiple witnesses including the Executive Director from Lotus Legal Clinic in Milwaukee and a former Milwaukee County Family Court Commissioner testify as to the "plan" we created to support K.S, house her, and hold her accountable to the court.
At the conclusion of the hearing the Judge stated that she had never reversed an order for such a large cash bond, but felt that we had put together a plan for K.S. that could be successful. The judge released K.S. on a $10,000 signature bond and she never missed another court appearance. The longer that K.S. was in the community on bond, her chances to avoid prison improved. We went back to court for her sentencing approximately ten months later. By then, she established a solid track record that supported probation with possible early termination. This was a successful outcome for me; for K.S.; but also for the criminal justice system. K.S. is actively working with other exploitation survivors now. She is not taking a bed in Taycheedah and she is contributing to her community as a citizen now. I could not be prouder of K.S. and her accomplishments since my first meeting with her in the Marathon County Jail.
2) K.F. is a woman with a four-year-old daughter who was a product of an unprovable sexual assault. K.F. is indigent and did not have an attorney to defend against the challenge the biological father mounted against K.F.'s "good cause finding" to not reveal the identity of the father in the child support agency.
Once he found out through various small-town contacts that K.F. had given birth to his child he began using the legal system to harass her. He filed motion after motion badgering her into agreeing to a minimal placement order with the child. He continued with threats to take the child away from K.F. completely and permanently. The Guardian ad litem in the matter contacted me and asked if l would consider representing K.F. through the Portage County Legal Aid Society. I agreed to do so.
In the first hearing (November 2017) we were able to minimize the father's contact with the child until a variety of requirements were met, e.g. psychological evaluations and counseling. Since that time, we have held thirteen evidentiary hearings that have involved every family court challenge imaginable. We have involved Child Protective Services, restraining orders, multiple levels of law enforcement, multiple psychological professionals, and multiple medical professionals throughout these contested hearings. The father was ultimately diagnosed with significant psychological disorders that explain the ferocity of his legal demands in these proceedings. We also learned through a lengthy background investigation that the man left a trail of criminal convictions and unseemly activity in the state in which he had previously resided.
We do not yet have a final order in the matter but we have achieved sole legal custody for K.F. as well as primary physical placement and a variety of rules that protect the child and mother. The case is set for the fourteenth evidentiary hearing in the near future.
This case has been significant for me as this woman could have lost all rights to her only child but for my actions stepping in to give her a voice against a violent and abusive perpetrator. This case continues today, and I look forward to continuing to ensure that K.F. retains custody and primary placement of this child.
3) I recently represented a severely autistic 37 year old man who is the object of a guardianship and protective placement.
During my annual review of his case his guardian told me that he would like to have his right to vote reinstated. The man has been institutionalized his entire life. I met with him and conducted my own evaluation of his ability to comprehend the election process. After seeing his ability to communicate using a physical aid it was clear he was well-informed and capable of making an informed decision in the ballot box, with the use of an aid. I filed a petition on his behalf; we participated in a contested hearing as to his abilities and the court agreed that he was certainly intelligent, informed, and was worthy of regaining this constitutional right that had been removed 20 years earlier. The man and his family were elated that I was able to see past his disability and use the law to regain a cherished constitutional right.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
I represented E. B. in multiple felony forgery and fraud charges. She was an accomplished Nursing Assistant and had begun taking classes to become an R.N. With the felony charges, she had her name added to the "Caregiver Misconduct" registry. We appealed the decision and I negotiated a settlement with the WI Dept. of Families whereby her name would be removed after one year. I also contested a second "caregiver misconduct" registry case for a daycare owner. We went to a contested hearing and won. Her day care is now open and providing care to children today.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
I have participated in ADR [Alternative Dispute Resolution] training through Marquette University (1997 through 1999) and have also recently taken the University of Wisconsin Divorce and Family Mediation Training. I mediate approximately 1 to 2 family law matters every month for the Portage County Family Court Commissioner. The statutes limit us to mediating only custody and placement issues for the county. I have also been retained privately to mediate guardianships and other family matters.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Treasurer, Veronica Isherwood for Portage County District Attorney (when she ran as a Democrat, unsuccessful)
Previous appointments and runs for public office:
Portage County Circuit Court, 2016 (lost in general election)
Village of Park Ridge trustee and president, 2012-2018 (appointed and then elected)
Stevens Point Area Public School District, 2014-2020 (won elections)
Portage County clerk of circuit court, 2011-2017 (appointed and then elected)
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Susan Happ, Wisconsin attorney general, 2014
Joanne Kloppenburg, Wisconsin Supreme Court, 2011
Rebecca Dallet, Wisconsin Supreme Court, 2018
Jill Karofsky, Wisconsin Supreme Court, 2020
Katrina Shankland, Wisconsin Assembly, various
Julie Lassa, Wisconsin State Senate, various
Paul Piotrowski, Wisconsin State Senate, currently
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Portage County Bar Association, 1998-present; officer 2013-2016, including as president
Rotary of Greater Portage County, 2012-present, including as president
Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin, 2014-2020, including as president
Mid-State Independent Living Choices Inc., 2012-present, including as director and president
Wisconsin State Bar, Bar Relations committee, 2017-present
Wisconsin Judicare, Inc., director, 2017-present
Friends of Emerson Park, member, 2019-2020
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
As listed … above, I have represented K.F. as a Portage County Legal Aid case since November 2017. I have logged nearly 200 hours of pro bono representation in her matter. (I have also paid for countless documents; certifications and subpoenas in her case, as I know she is unable to pay for these things).
Recently, a social worker called me and asked me to represent another young woman with an autistic child in a domestic abuse restraining order hearing to protect her and the child. I asked that the woman see if she qualified for Portage County Legal Aid Society representation and if yes, would handle the restraining order matter. She qualified. There was also an on-going CPS matter and the family court order needed to be modified. We held multiple evidentiary hearings to ensure that she and the child were protected from her abusive former boyfriend. I represented her in a day-long trial in her post-judgment family court matter, as well as the restraining order. We successfully changed custody and placement in the family matter and obtained an injunction which provided the protection my client and her vulnerable child needed.
I volunteered at a State Bar of Wisconsin "Wills for Heros" clinic for the Wausau Police Department in 2018. I saw what a terrific program it is and decided to organize a clinic in Portage County with the Bar Association. We held it in 2019 serving 40 police officers. I have attempted to organize a second clinic, however have been unable due to the pandemic.
Why I want to be a judge -- My greatest passion as a lawyer has been to represent those who might not have a voice in our justice system: the vulnerable child, an intimidated victim, or a senior who can no longer speak. It has been fulfilling to me to represent the State in criminal cases where justice was achieved for a victim; rehabilitation obtained for an addict, or expungement for a deserving teen. In every case, I advocate for the best result possible using the many tools that the justice system offers.
I have had a unique and varied legal path. Law was a second career for me, attending Madison while pregnant with my first and second children. In addition to being a lawyer, I have been a stay-at-home mom, a co-parent in a divorce, served as Clerk of Circuit Court and been a long-time school board member. I have been so much more than just a lawyer. Every position: prosecutor, defense attorney, guardian ad litem, Asst. City Attorney, and Clerk of Court has given me a unique perspective and a broader understanding of our complex justice system. It has also given me an opportunity to learn how the systems work and the tools that each area offers.
Attending law school was a privilege for me. I was the first person in our family to attend college. I can see the rungs on the ladder that were extended for me. My goal has always been to improve the lives of all I touch and to repay the opportunities that were given to me.
In every position I have held, I have worked to uphold our legal institutions by treating all people with respect and dignity. It is vital to understand that the litigants that enter the system might be dealing with one of their worst moments of their life; a divorce, an eviction, or addressing a crime.
The integrity of our legal system depends squarely on the integrity and empathy of the judges running those courts. It also relies on the judge appreciating that this case might be the most important moment in this litigant's life. This requires listening, humility, and empathy; qualities that I have always strived to demonstrate.
We must also acknowledge that our courts are at a crossroads: we have never had so many pro se litigants; our systems are being scrutinized for its treatment of people of color, and how it interfaces with law enforcement; we are using electronic technology in court hearings that lowers the decorum and perception of the courts. These issues must be addressed. My varied background gives me unique tools to understand and work towards resolution. I embrace the challenges these issues present.
My career path has been unique and varied; I have always tried to see the glass half-full, and I have embraced opportunities for improvement. Should I be appointed, I would bring all these life experiences to 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.
As a three-term member of the Stevens Point Board of Education, for me the case that has demonstrated a significant impact to residents of Wisconsin is Davis v Grover 166 Wis. 2nd 501, 480 N.W. 2d 460 (1992).
In the late 1980's then Governor Tommy Thompson advocated for a parental choice program to allow the State of Wisconsin to send taxpayer money to private schools to educate children. The first program was the Milwaukee Public Choice Program (MPCP) and was authorized as part of the budget bill in 1989. Actions by Superintendent of Public Instruction, Herbert J. Grover, caused a school parent Lanzetta Davis, and her daughter to challenge. The issues presented to the court were regarding the constitutionality of how the bill was enacted; the uniform district school clause and whether the classification of the bill, applying only to residents of a "first class city" was a violation of the Wisconsin Constitution, Sect. IV, Art. 18.
The Supreme Court, by a five to four majority ruled that the process by which the bill was created was constitutional and that the "first class city" classification was likewise constitutional. This despite only being available to "Milwaukee" residents.
The Supreme Court found that how the legislation was enacted - as part of the budget bill, to be constitutional. While they discussed the substantive issues of poverty in the City of Milwaukee that brought about the need for reform, the reality is those comments were nothing more than windowdressing for their analysis of whether the bill was a violation of the constitution.
Additionally, while they stated a controversial bill should be vigorously debated in both houses of the legislature, only the dissent points out the lack of such a debate in the full senate. The Supreme Court provided a defense of the goals of the program stating reform was necessary due to the "monumentally oppressive poverty problems as found in first class cities...". However, this was nothing more than dicta, as the real issue before them was the process by which the bill was passed - as part of the budget.
Once this method of passing school legislation (via the budget) was deemed constitutional, it created a gateway for subsequent legislation which allowed religious schools to receive funding via the choice program in 1994. It also set the stage for the dramatic statewide expansion of school choice throughout Wisconsin in 2011. Today the State spends over $145 million on private school vouchers annually and every dollar is taken from the local public school district.
The majority created a precedent which justified this process of enacting controversial legislation. The precedent has affected local school districts across the state since its decision. The result of this decision by the Supreme Court has impacted the delivery of education to generations of Wisconsin schoolchildren.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
While I have worked with many wonderful judges these three stand out in my personal experience:
Hon. Jill Falstad, Circuit Court Branch 1, Marathon County
I worked with Judge Jill Falstad when she was District Attorney for Marathon County. I can state unequivocally that she was my mentor and the person that instilled in me my work ethic. When people state that I am thorough and well-prepared, the credit all goes to Judge Falstad. We co-counseled multiple jury trials in which I learned the benefit of preparation.
Additionally, she has always pursued justice with a passion and done "the right thing" even when that meant doing the most difficult thing. We once disagreed on a disposition in a domestic abuse homicide. While we disagreed, she displayed a remarkable sense of compassion and never swayed from seeking justice in the case.
When District Attorney Falstad ascended to the bench in Marathon County, I knew she would take that work ethic, her dogged pursuit of justice, and deep compassion with her. While she turned out to be a tough sentencing judge, my clients who appeared in her court were always treated with respect, dignity, and listened to thoughtfully. If I am appointed to the bench I will aspire to be as thorough, as thoughtful, and as compassionate as her.
Hon. Gregory Grau: Circuit Court Branch 4, Marathon County
I had the good fortune of trying multiple jury trials in front of Judge Grau when I worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Marathon County. I have chosen Judge Grau because he pushed me to "find the authority" for every decision. I recall my law professors telling us to always look to the statutes. I received the same admonition from Judge Grau asking "what is your authority for that?" countless times. A good judge listens but also demands preparation and a solid footing upon which decisions are to be made. Judge Grau was that judge - demanding the best from those appearing in front of him. He pushed me to reach farther, work harder, and always know the authority for which I made my requests. He was an outstanding role model.
Hon. Frederic Fleishauer: Circuit Court Branch 1, Portage County
I appeared before Judge Fleishauer more times than I can count. He was always thoroughly versed in the statutes and case law and an excellent jurist. However, I am listing him here because of my admiration for his leadership in our community. Judge Fleishauer advocated tirelessly for thoughtful problem-solving in the justice system. He was the catalyst for the creation of the Portage County Justice Coalition more than twenty years ago; our pre-trial supervision program for OWI offenders; and a private organization (Justiceworks Ltd.) to provide mentors and other alternative programs in the criminal justice system. He was deeply involved in our community, a true advocate for justice, and embodied the role of leader of the Portage County Justice system.
The proper role of a judge:
A Circuit Court Judge is a leader in the county justice system, a role model and moral compass for a community. In the courtroom the judge needs to exhibit decorum but also listen carefully to all parties. Respect for all people in the courtroom is essential.
Most people will enter a courtroom only once or twice in their lifetimes. It may be one of the most difficult moments in that person's life. A judge must remember that while day-to-day hearings might become rote and routine, for the person seated in front of them, this might be the most critical moment of their life. A judge must give that interaction the great weight such an encounter deserves.
The court must base its rulings on the proper authority, be it statutes or case law. A judge must be prepared and well-versed in the applicable statutes and case law. A Circuit Court judge does not make law, but rather applies existing law to the situation before it, even when the judge may not agree with the applicable law. When a judge rules, they should clearly explain the basis upon which they are relying. A recitation of the relevant facts is essential to understand why the judge ruled the way they did.
A Circuit Court judge respects the role of the jury as the finder-of-fact and equally respects the constitutional role of jurors in the justice process.
It is important for the judge to be perceived by all as fair and impartial in all matters. When there is a perception that it might not be possible to appear to be fair and impartial, the judge must be prepared to recuse him or herself and allow another court to handle the matter.
A judge realizes the power of their words - they can encourage a defendant to improve themselves, speak to divorcing parents about the value of co-parenting and mutual respect, or motivate a litigant toward rehabilitation.
The role of the judge in treatment or alternative rehabilitation programs is monumental. The judge can empathize with a defendant, inspire, motivate, or buoy up a relapsed defendant. As a team member for treatment courts, the judge bears the ultimate responsibility when a defendant fails and needs consequences or to be expelled from the program.
Outside of the courtroom the judge is a community leader and the face of the county justice system. The judge must be able to turn a blind eye to criticisms for unpopular rulings.
The judge's personal life is on display, as well. Actions by the judge and his or her family in the community must be beyond reproach. A judge should consider themselves a role model for good citizenship.
Lastly, the role of the judge is to be an ambassador for the justice system. A judge listens, and cares deeply for the integrity of the justice system. A good judge imbues respect in all ways for our constitutional form of government.
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