"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: Ryan J. Hetzel
Appointed to: Washington County Circuit Court
Appointment date: May 3, 2022
Law School – Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
High School – West Bend East, West Bend, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
October 2016-present – Hetzel Law Office, LLC, West Bend, Wisconsin
January 2008-2016 – partner with Hetzel & Nelson, West Bend, Wisconsin
August 2002-December 2007 – Hetzel Law Office, LLC, West Bend, Wisconsin
Bar and administrative memberships:
Wisconsin Supreme Court
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
General character of practice:
My current practice is litigation with an emphasis on plaintiffs personal injury work and applicant's workers compensation cases. I also handle civil litigation with respect to insurance, contract claims and contested probate or trust matters. Finally, I still handle some criminal defense work, traffic defense, and family law cases. I have tried over 50 cases to verdict with a mixture of criminal and civil cases. For many years I acted as a guardian ad litem on family cases, although I have not done so in the last 5 years, other than for minor settlements. I am currently a solo practitioner but have practiced in a partnership and have had as many as 4 attorneys employed with my firm.
Describe typical clients:
My clients come from all walks of life. I have represented adult and juvenile criminal defendants, children, husbands and wives in family cases, injured people, injured employees, business owners and large corporations involved in litigation.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 53
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:
My most recent jury trial (October 2021) was a 7-day civil trial regarding misrepresentation and conspiracy. I represented a gunshot victim initially in 2009 against the shooter. The initial litigation was primarily attempting to secure monetary assets of that defendant, which had unfortunately been dissipated by the law firm defending him.
My most recent trial was for misrepresentation and fraud against the partners of that law firm for essentially stealing their client's money and filing false documents in the underlying civil litigation. The most recent trial resulted in a $250,000 judgment against each former attorney/ defendant for compensatory and punitive damages. The trial judge was the Honorable Sandra J. Giernoth, opposing counsel were Terry Johnson and Erik Colque. Waukesha County case 08-CV-1104 and Washington County case 18-CV-251.
In April 2021, I represented a woman who had a slip and fall injury at the West Bend Menards, resulting in both of her hamstrings being partially ruptured. I was successor counsel as her former attorney withdrew from her representation. That 4-day trial resulted in a verdict of $389,000, reduced by 13% for contributory negligence. The trial judge was the Honorable Todd K. Martens. Opposing counsel was Quentin Shafer. Washington County case 18-CV-21.
My last criminal jury trial was a 2-day trial in July of 2017. My client was charged with third-degree sexual assault; accused of inappropriately touching a client at his massage parlor. My client was acquitted of the charge. The trial judge was the Honorable Michael Aprahamian. Opposing counsel was Adam Y. Gerol. Washington County case 16-CF-439. I have since tried another sexual assault case in late 2019, however my client elected to waive the jury on the first day of trial against my advice, which was, of course, his right to do so. Washington County case 18-CF-467.
In all of these cases, I was the only attorney to appear at trial for my client. I do not use a paralegal at trial. I manage my own exhibits and trial materials.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
I have handled many worker's compensation hearings to completion before both the Department of Workforce Development and Hearings and Appeals (currently). I have handled administrative review hearings for driver's license suspensions in OWI cases. I have challenged financial responsibility determinations in cases where liability with an uninsured driver is disputed. I have appeared at unemployment hearings and discrimination hearings regarding employment terminations.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
I have attended more than 100 mediations, primarily in personal injury cases. I have also attended mediations on civil matters involving business contract disputes, the sale of homes, and contested estate matters. I have conducted two arbitrations for personal injury matters as lead counsel for an injured plaintiff.
All public offices to which you were appointed or elected:
President, West Bend Business Improvement District, appointed by mayor, 2010-2012
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: None
Previous runs for public office: None
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
James K. Muehlbauer, Circuit Court Judge
James G. Pouros, Circuit Court Judge
Andrew T. Gonring, Circuit Court Judge
Jill J. Karofsky, Supreme Court Justice
Rebecca F. Dallett, Supreme Court Justice
Lisa Neubauer, Supreme Court Justice
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Downtown West Bend Association, president, board, 2008-2020
United Way of Washington County, board, 2013-2018
West Bend Business Improvement District, president, 2010-2012
Citizen Advocacy of Washington County, president, board, 2005-2011
Washington County Injury Prevention Coalition, member, 2014-2016 and November 2020-present
Wisconsin Association for Justice, member, 1997-present; board member, 2009-present
Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, member, 2002-present
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
Every board that I sat on … was a volunteer position. For most of those boards, I was requested to provide some legal work free of charge, which could range from negotiating leases to giving legal opinions regarding insurance, risk, etc. I was tasked with converting the DWBA to a 501(c)(3), which I did with the assistance of outside counsel.
Why I want to be a judge — I believe there is no greater honor than serving as a circuit court judge. As a judge, one has the opportunity to ensure that the parties have access to the court system, that the rules and law are applied fairly to them, and that they are given their day in court.
I was born and raised in Washington County. I chose to raise my children in Washington County. I think it is a wonderful place to live and work. I have a deep admiration for the Washington County Bar Association and its history. I feel it is very important as a lawyer to give back to your community. It would truly be an honor to be able to serve this community in the capacity of a circuit court judge.
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.
Both cases that come to mind are US Supreme Court cases but each has had a large impact on the citizens of Wisconsin. Obergdfell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015) granted the fundamental right to marry for same-sex couples. I was fortunate enough to attend a same sex wedding in Madison in the summer of 2015 that had been scheduled well before the decision came down. The case was decided only days before the wedding and the officiant quoted from the case during the ceremony, which was truly a unique experience. I was able to observe the firsthand the joy that decision created for people who had previously been marginalized and their rights questioned.
The second case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). In that case, our Supreme court held that the government could not limit independent and corporate expenditures for political campaigns under the First Amendment. This decision opened the proverbial floodgates by allowing corporations unfettered access to political parties and candidates. This decision, in my opinion, has endangered fairness in elections in Wisconsin by allowing special interests to fund candidates and influence elections.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
I greatly admire Shirley Abrahamson. She was a pioneer in the legal field in Wisconsin. I always believed her opinions were well-reasoned and that her rationale for each decision was explained so that the law could be meaningfully applied in the future. I had the opportunity to meet her personally on several occasions, including inviting her to speak at the Washington County Bar Law Day when I was the President of the Bar. In addition to being an incredible legal mind, she was a delightful person.
Closer to home, I greatly admire recently retired Judge Andrew T. Gonring. Judge Gonring was still a practicing attorney when I began my career and was rumored to be the best trial lawyer in the county. I never had a case with him as an attorney, but when he took the bench, his reputation was not lost upon me. When I appeared before him, I always wanted to demonstrate to him that I was prepared and knew the facts and the law of my cases. That experience made me a better lawyer.
The proper role of a judge:
It is the responsibility of the judge to apply the law fairly and even-handedly to the parties. A judge's role is to make sure that every citizen has access to the courts and is treated with respect. It is the role of the judge to make sure that the law is applied properly and that justice is served, whatever the result.
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