"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.
Note: Raphael Ramos is a former Wisconsin Justice Initiative board member.
Name: Raphael F. Ramos
Appointed to: Milwaukee County Circuit Court
Appointment date: May 25, 2023 (term ends July 31, 2024)
Law School – Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Undergraduate – Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa
High School – Greendale High School, Greendale, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
2020-present – Milwaukee Housing Law Unit supervisor, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2016-present – Eviction Defense Project director, Legal Action of Wisconsin
2015-2016 – Zone contract leader, GE Healthcare, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
2008-2014 – Associate attorney, Quarles & Brady LLP, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Bar and administrative memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
General character of practice:
As Director of Legal Action of Wisconsin's Eviction Defense Project (EDP), I defend low-income tenants in eviction court; have recruited, trained, supervised, and counseled over 100 pro bono volunteers, enabling them to provide (virtual) in-court, legal representation to low-income tenants; and engage in outreach to educate the public and supporters regarding the EDP and fundraise to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Project.
In December 2020, I was promoted to Supervisor of Legal Action of Wisconsin's Milwaukee Housing Unit. In that capacity, I oversee all of the Milwaukee Office's housing related litigation and client service. In addition to my own caseload, I am responsible for supervising and training all of our housing attorneys, and for developing housing related litigation priorities and strategies. These duties are in addition to my previous obligations as EDP Director.
Under my leadership, Legal Action of Wisconsin's housing unit has grown from one part-time housing attorney and paralegal in 2016 to a team of eight attorneys and two paralegals.
My previous practice at GE Healthcare consisted largely of corporate transactions while my practice at Quarles & Brady LLP consisted generally of compliance related regulatory counsel.
Describe typical clients:
As a public service attorney, I provide free legal services and my clients consist entirely of low-income individuals who would otherwise be unlikely to have representation. My client practice is focused largely on housing litigation and the promotion of housing stability. While at GE Healthcare, I specialized in transactional roles: crafting and negotiating multifaceted business agreements and counseling internal stakeholders regarding business and legal strategy while ensuring compliance with federal and state requirements. At Quarles & Brady LLP, I provided corporate clients with legal counsel on environmental matters, regulatory compliance, business transactions, government inquiries, and project/site development.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 1
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:
TE V LLC v. [Party Sealed], Milwaukee Cty. Cir. Ct. Case No. 2019SC014924
This case was brought before the Milwaukee County Circuit court and raised several issues relating to courthouse procedure and the reaffirmation of retroactive rent abatement. My involvement began with my initial intake of the client and identification of grounds for appeal of the initial Circuit Court decision. I helped draft the pleadings for the appeal and, upon remand on the merits, helped develop the legal theory of retroactive rent abatement as a novel defense to eviction. The Circuit Court ultimately did not rule on the applicability of rent abatement in that case,* instead granting dismissal on other grounds. Most important Legal Action's tenant clients, however, was the fact that the Court found that retroactive rent abatement was a viable defense while reopening the case, recognizing a new potential defense to eviction for tenants living in sub-standard housing.
* Note that the CCAP reporting for this case is inaccurate, as it indicates that the Court found that the defendant was not entitled to rent abatement. More accurately, the Court stated that a trial on those facts would be necessary to answer that question and instead dismissed the case based on the fact that the tenant was no longer living at the property.
[Redacted] v. Circuit Court for Dane County, Wis. Ct. App. Case No. 2018AP2313
The case was brought before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to address the question of whether a Circuit Court Judge had the authority to redact the name of a tenant from a dismissed eviction action. As Director of Legal Action's Eviction Defense Project, I had a prominent role in crafting the legal theory advanced by [redacted] and assisted in briefing the issue for the Court of Appeals. The Court ruled in favor, finding that the administration of justice can require redaction of party names in circumstances where the existence of a dismissed eviction case could inhibit a tenant's ability to find safe and secure housing. That ruling has had a tremendous benefit to tenants as it will allow them to obtain housing without the burden of dismissed evictions creating a misleading impression of their rental history.
Appleton Papers Inc. and NCR Corporation v. George A. Whiting Paper Company, et al., E.D. Wis. Case No. 08-CV-00016-WCG
This case was one of several tied to historic PCB contamination in the Fox River in Northeastern Wisconsin. I provided extensive behind the scenes litigation support, assisting with depositions, legal research and briefing, and review of case files. In so doing, I analyzed and unwound complicated corporate relationships, highly technical procedural arguments, and worked collaboratively with a large team of attorneys, paralegals, clients, and other parties in interest.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
I have experience representing clients in defense of allegations of regulatory violations and non-compliance before administrative agencies. In that capacity, I negotiated settlement agreements between clients and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I have also provided testimony to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in support of a rule-making petition to reinstate the practice of ghostwriting for pro bono attorneys. (Wisconsin S.C. Rule Petition 19-16).
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
As the Director of the EDP and Supervisor of Legal Action's Milwaukee Housing Unit, I have multiple administrative responsibilities that extend beyond my obligations in the courtroom. I worked extensively with internal staff and the courthouse to develop a new, and unique, template for pro bono service delivery that has been recognized by the Legal Services Corporation as a national model. In so doing, I obtained experience evaluating systems to enhance their efficiency and allow for greater access to those systems. I am also responsible for recruiting and training other attorneys on landlord/tenant law to prepare them to provide in-court advocacy.
My non-litigation legal experience includes extensive transactional work, consisting of the negotiation, drafting, and evaluation of business agreements. At GE Healthcare, much of my daily practice consisted of navigating the complicated weave of internal politics, contentious negotiations, and corporate interests. While at Q&B, I specialized in brownfield redevelopment, helping clients evaluate the risk associated with project and site development and counseling them concerning responsible and sustainable development and regulatory compliance.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Molly Gena campaign for Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge, volunteer, 2023
Obama campaign, volunteer, 2012
Obama campaign, election observer, 2008
Previous runs for public office: n/a
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Molly Gena, City of Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge, 2023
Janet Protasiewicz, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, 2023
Sara Geenen, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, 2023
Nidhi Kashyap, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge, 2021
Danielle Shelton, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge, 2019
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Wisconsin Justice Initiative, board member, March 2019-present
Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, volunteer, September 2008-present
Wisconsin Asian American Bar Association, member, September 2019-present
Milwaukee Bar Association, member, 2008-present
Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation, volunteer, 2006-present
Milwaukee Debate League, member and roles including president, 2011-2017
Legal Action-VLP, volunteer, 2008-2014
Sojourner Truth House, volunteer Restraining Order Clinic, 2008-2014
Quarles & Brady, volunteer pro bono Eastern District inmate cases, 2006-2014
My Home, Your Home, board member, 2009-2011
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
I have been a volunteer with the Marquette Volunteer Clinic since graduating from law school in 2008. There, I provide pro bono representation to individuals on a variety of legal issues in a clinical, brief service, setting. I am also a volunteer with the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation and sit on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
I previously served on the board for the Milwaukee Debate League, which I helped found in 2011 and where I served as Interim President, Vice President, Secretary, and Chair of the Fundraising Committee. I obtained my first board experience through service as a board member with My Home, Your Home. I previously volunteered with the Sojourner Family Peace Center's Restraining Order Clinic from 2008 through 2014 and assisted victims of abuse or harassment with the acquisition of TROs. I also provided extended representation to two inmates in separate court appointed pro bono conditions of confinement cases before the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Together with lead counsel in one of those cases, we took the case to trial in the Green Bay Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin where the jury deliberated for several days before reaching a verdict against our client.
Why I want to be a judge:
I seek this appointment because, as a resident of Milwaukee, I care about my home and because I have the diversity of perspective and humility necessary to serve the people of Wisconsin effectively, honestly, and fairly.
As I considered pursuing this seat, I contemplated the hubris inherent to the idea of a judge—the idea that one person can be empowered to judge another. It is an awesome responsibility and the first question I had was whether I could succeed in this role. Competence is not enough. To serve the people, our judiciary must be comprised of people willing and able to bear the judicial mantle of responsibility. In my arrogance, I believe myself capable.
My professional path has taken me from a large private law firm, to in-house at a Fortune 50 company, to public service and representation of the poor and indigent. Following that course, I learned to navigate the highly technical world of environmental laws and regulation, balance the intensely political and business-oriented focus of corporate law, and face the humanity and desperation tied to representing people who struggle with parts of life I take for granted. These experiences are the source of my confidence, but, more importantly, they showed me that I do not know everything. They temper my arrogance and forge humility from diversity of experience.
I have been fortunate to work with the wealthy, the destitute, and the in-between, and I can see from their varying perspectives. I grew up poor and a minority. My family immigrated from the Philippines when I was two. I remember my parents, my two siblings, and I sharing a single room in my aunt’s house for years. I remember the casual racism of my grade school addressing my dad as “Dr. Ramos” based on the stereotype that all Filipino men are doctors. I remember the intentional racism of being called a “chink” in 7th grade and asked if I was “the black kid” from the Mighty Ducks in the 9th. I remember the inadvertent racism and tokenism of being asked by an employer to join a photo shoot for a client for whom I had never done any work. I remember these things, just as I remember becoming a citizen, graduating from law school, and joining a big firm. Together, they shape who I am today.
It is an odd thing, to feel summed up by individual aspects of your being. That feeling taught me, however, that the way we view the world is informed by our experiences and the way others view and treat us is a critical part of that experience. I want to serve so that I can use my experience to ensure that the people of Wisconsin know that they are treated fairly because they have been given the opportunity to be heard and because their experience in court reflects the thoughtfulness, intelligence, and integrity emanating 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 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, that partisan gerrymandering is a political question beyond the reach of federal courts, has already had a profoundly negative impact on Wisconsin democracy and represents an abdication of the Court’s duty and commitment to separation of powers. While much could be written on the Rucho decision, this commentary is directed at the Court’s comments that its ruling does not “condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void” nor “condone excessive partisan gerrymandering.”
The Rucho decision does not condemn complaints to a void; rather, the breadth of the decision in many ways prevents complaints from even being voiced. Instead of addressing the question of “how much politicization of districting is too much,” the Court begged off the issue entirely by declaring the question political in nature and beyond the reach of federal courts. The proposition is ludicrous. If the clearly partisan gerrymandering that existed in Rucho, as outlined in Justice Kagan’s review of the legislative history in her dissent, was insufficient to trigger that analysis, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where gerrymandering could be subject to federal judicial review. The Court could have reversed and remanded, requiring the lower courts to develop a new system. Instead, the Court threw its hands in the air, decided it was too hard, and said not to ask about it again.
As a result, the Rucho decision curtailed the ability of voters in states like Wisconsin to seek review of partisan gerrymandering. No better proof of that exists than the dismissal of the state gerrymandering case, Whitford v. Gill, mere days after the Supreme Court decision. In Wisconsin, where a party can win 205,000 more votes than the opposing party but still yield 29 seats in the assembly, the gerrymandering case was dismissed on joint motion due to the far reaching holding in Rucho.
By denying federal judicial review, the Court stands idle while gerrymandering persists. The Court’s deference to state legislatures places decision-making authority in the hands of those perpetrating gerrymandering and potentially renders unfair lines immutable. The Court cited to Florida and other jurisdictions that are restricting partisan considerations in districting through legislation, but those are examples of where the political will to combat gerrymandering already exists. In circumstances where no protection exists and where a majority of legislators have entrenched their position due to gerrymandering, those legislatures have no incentive to change the status quo.
The designation of “representation” through gerrymandered lines is antithetical to the concept of a democratic republic and, as the law of the land, the Rucho decision’s enables that practice and will have lasting, negative, repercussions on Wisconsin democracy.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
Among others, I have great respect for Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judges Ellen Brostrom and William Pocan.
Judge Brostrom presided over the Small Claims court when Legal Action launched the Eviction Defense Project. As an administrator of the court, she worked with her staff and Legal Action to establish an efficient model of same-day legal representation. It should be unsurprising that, when representing before her, efficiency, fairness, deliberation, and respect are hallmarks of her court.
American Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lockett (Case No. 2014CV6365) exemplifies why I admire Judge Brostrom. In that case, a default judgment had been entered against a defendant whose car had been stolen and crashed without her knowledge or participation. Years later, my wife represented the defendant and filed a motion to reopen. Judge Brostrom denied the motion due to the defendant’s failure to answer or file a motion to reopen in a timely fashion. Remarkably, however, Judge Brostrom reconsidered sua sponte and issued a new decision that differed in result, but was equally grounded in the law. In it, she noted that Wisconsin Statutes empower a court to “do substantial justice” and that “[s]addling a woman with thousands of dollars in debt for an accident she did not cause because she failed to grasp a means to respond to an ensuing lawsuit is not justice.”
Judge Brostrom’s realization that the decision she had made, while legally justifiable, was fundamentally unjust is inspiring. As administrators of justice, it behooves the court to have judges with the humility to place justice ahead of their own ego and the courage to act on that conviction. Judge Brostrom has always carried herself as a person of intelligence, integrity, and honesty, and her actions that day were consistent with that impression and left an indelible mark on my view of how a judge should preside.
Likewise, Judge Pocan’s tenure on the small claims court provided me with a model to aspire to as a hopeful jurist. In preparing this application, I sought counsel from numerous colleagues to get their opinion on what virtues are most valuable in a judge and which judges do they view as being particularly strong. Judge Pocan’s name resounded in those conversations with regularity.
The consensus view, which aligns with my own, is that Judge Pocan is profoundly thoughtful, fair, and well-prepared. Interestingly, Judge Pocan once told me that his bailiff in Small Claims said he saw fewer upset litigants in Judge Pocan’s courtroom than in any other. The reason that Judge Pocan believed that to be the case was not due to his legal acumen or prestige as a judge. Rather, he tied it to the simple fact that he tried to make the litigants feel human. Judge Pocan’s temperament and ability to relate to those before him creates an element of trust between litigant and judge, a trust that helps parties feel that justice has been served. It is a skill, among his many others, that I admire greatly.
The proper role of a judge:
The role of a judge is multifaceted and, while it begins on the bench, I believe the role extends far beyond it.
A judge’s principal responsibility is, of course, to uphold the law and to analyze and apply statutes in a manner faithful to the constitution and legislative intent. They are also tasked with conducting the case ethically and fairly. On the bench, a trial court judge’s perhaps most important role is that of a listener and student. Some of the greatest assets available to a judge are the attorneys and litigants appearing before the court on any given day. Even when experienced, a judge must have the humility to be educated by the attorneys that have spent days, weeks, or months preparing a case and the litigants living through it. Ultimately, it is the judge’s role to filter those views through a critical lens of analysis so that debatable issues are given the opportunity to be heard.
In addition to responsibilities on the bench, a judge’s administrative responsibility to the system and the community is equally important. Judge’s bear an obligation to ensure that the judicial system and its attendant processes allow for access to justice, equality of access, and equal justice among its participants. To that end, I believe that judges need to be engaged with the system, to understand and identify its deficiencies so that they can enhance efficiency and eliminate systemic barriers that make the court system burdensome to navigate.
In a similar vein, the role of a judge should involve participation in the community. It is not enough for judges to take their seat on the bench, preside, and go back to their private lives. The judiciary must be involved with the community in order to understand its needs, to see and hear the concerns that people have, and to make certain that they are in touch with the realities of everyday life and that their rulings are not wholly inconsistent with expectations of fairness and justice.
As a non-profit attorney, I see clients every day who say that the judicial system has run roughshod over them. They tell me that they felt unheard, that they were never given the opportunity to speak, and that the court was unfairly biased in favor of the opposing party. Whether those feelings were well-founded is important, but beside the point. Perceptions of procedural fairness have a profound effect on litigants’ view of the legitimacy of the courts.
When people do not believe that the system is fair, they do not believe in the system, and the court finds itself diminished. One need only look at eviction court, where people face the catastrophic threat of losing their homes, yet nearly half of the cases end in default. It is the job of the judiciary to create and justify faith in the system and demonstrate to the public that while a judge may not rule in their favor, they will give them the opportunity to be heard.
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