Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Kiefer is challenging incumbent Daniel Gabler in the Branch 29 Milwaukee County Circuit Court judicial race.
The election is April 7.
WJI asked both candidates to respond to a series of questions designed to better inform voters about their candidacy. Kiefer did; Gabler did not.
WJI, however, has previously written about Gabler, who was appointed to the bench in December 2018 by former Gov. Scott Walker. Gabler's "Walker's judges" profile is here; a story about his judicial application and building code violations is here.
Kiefer, a Wisconsin native, is a graduate of Marquette University Law School. After graduating, she practiced for a time with her father, also a lawyer, before she became a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney, a position she has held for more than 15 years. Her full resume is here.
Gabler also is a Marquette Law grad. He was a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney and served under Walker as chair of the State Parole Commission. The resume he submitted with his judicial application to Walker is here.
Here are Kiefer's responses to the WJI questionnaire as she submitted them.
Why do you want to become a judge?
I want to be a judge because I have the qualifications, experience, and values to serve. I believe that all people deserve a fair hearing under the law and everyone deserves respect in the courtroom.
I’m also concerned with leadership in the community and the courtroom. As an attorney and ADA, I’ve traveled statewide to train attorneys on issues regarding children and the law. My goal is always to gain more experience and tools to make a positive difference. As a judge, I can continue that effort from the bench and have a larger impact. Kids’ issues are central to everything that I do.
I am deeply concerned with keeping our community safe, and I’m also insistent on issues of equality and equity. Milwaukee County needs judges who can fairly apply the law, ensure we care about the needs of working people, kids, and victims, and treat everyone with respect. I intend to be that judge. In my current position in the District Attorney’s office, I help children get placed in permanent, loving homes. It is work that is both challenging and rewarding. As a judge, I will be able to affect positive change at a higher level.
Name one of the best United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinions in the last thirty years and explain why you feel that way.
One of the best Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions in the past thirty years is State v. Bangert, 131 Wis.2d 246, 389 N.W.2d 12 (1986). This case deals with how to evaluate a plea after the fact to decide if the plea was done freely, voluntarily and intelligently, with a full knowledge of the consequences of the plea. This case establishes a common-sense approach where the court will look at the entire record to determine what the individual understood at the time the plea was entered. This framework allows a court to examine all of the facts relevant to show what the individual did or did not know at the time the plea was entered, carefully preserving the rights of that individual while ensuring the public’s interest in swift and sure justice. The guidance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in this case strikes a careful balance, which tends to encourage careful, conscientious plea colloquies, while also not permitting an individual to game the system by taking advantage of judicial mistakes.
Name one of the worst United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinions in the last thirty years and explain why you feel that way.
One of the worst United States Supreme Court cases of the last thirty years is Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), which deals with the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. I believe this is the worst United States Supreme Court Case as it condones the government taking people's homes and transferring them to a private developer. This taking of personal property that was not blighted or otherwise a nuisance to the community, merely to increase the city’s tax base, worked to the benefit of a private corporation at the expense of individual homeowners. This is not what the Takings Clause the Fifth Amendment is meant to do, as it is not a true "public use" under the law.
Wisconsin has addressed this issue. In 2006 the legislature prohibited this type of taking, and established procedures designed to protect property owners. See 2005 WI Act 233 and 2005 WI Act 208.
Describe your judicial philosophy.
My judicial philosophy is to understand what everyone in the courtroom needs and ensure that people are treated fairly. I do not think judges should have an agenda. Generally, I agree, judges should approach their role with restraint and deference to the rule of law. Of course I believe that the role of a circuit court judge is to interpret the laws of the State of Wisconsin, and not to legislate new policies from the bench -- the role of legislators is to legislate.
I believe it is the role of a circuit court judge to listen, without bias or prejudice, to the case before them, and adjudicate the matter fairly using the applicable law as their guide, without bringing any outside agenda into the courtroom.
I am a servant of the law. A servant of the law has no interest in the outcome of the case, but to see that justice be done. The twofold interest of a servant of the law is that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer. These are the beliefs I hold as an assistant district attorney for the State of Wisconsin, and I would continue to employ as a circuit court judge. The cornerstone of this belief is fairness to all parties, to allow all litigants the time to be heard and advance their case, while at the same time moving cases along so that all may receive the finality of judgement in a reasonable time.
I know that judges can’t make all parties happy, nor should we try. But every litigant should feel heard, and have the opportunity to be heard. I don’t think we need assembly-line justice in civil or criminal court. We need judges who will adhere to the law, and ensure that agendas are set aside.
Finally, I think the Constitution is a living document. Judges must apply the law to today’s world, not some mythical view of how our Founders might have addressed issues they could not have foreseen more than 240 years ago.
The circuit court judge is a servant of the law. I believe the role of a circuit court judge is to look at each individual case, apply the applicable law to the facts, and render a decision that is fair, reasoned, and clearly supported by the record.
Name two or three judges or justices whom you admire and explain why you admire each.
I model myself after Judge John DiMotto, who was a Circuit Court Judge for many years. When I was in the DA’s office, I was assigned to his court for a time. He was always fair and even-keeled in the courtroom. He made an excellent record and trained other judges as they were coming up. He was generous with his time and treated everyone with respect.
I also admire Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her work on women's issues as an attorney and for her jurisprudence on the bench. She is a model of civility on the bench and an inspiration to women everywhere to keep going no matter the circumstances
Describe the two most significant cases in which you were involved as either an attorney or a judicial officer.
My arguments before the Supreme Court in State v Shirley E and appellate briefing in State v. DPV were both significant achievements. Both of these cases ended in adoption for a child previously in foster care. In my time in the termination of parental rights unit (Jan 2005 to now) I have made adoption possible for many hundreds of children in the Milwaukee foster care system who would have otherwise languished in foster care, as they were unable to safely return to the home.
I argued State v Shirley E before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2006, a case which dealt with a conflict between two statutes. At the time I was just three years out of law school, but I felt the need to seek review because I saw a conflict in the law. I firmly believe that we have an obligation to speak up when we see a problem. The WSC declined to resolve the issue but it was ultimately corrected through a legislative change to Wis Stat 48.23(2).
In State v DPV, I sought review of a circuit court judge acting outside the law, and was successful. I believed that the judge in question was acting outside his authority, and was creating undue delay for children who needed stability and permanent support in their lives. Through my successful challenge, I stopped an unnecessary and harmful practice that was delaying permanence for kids. I understand the rule of law, and I believe all actors in the judicial system—litigants, attorneys, and judges alike—must be held to the same legal framework if justice is to be done.
Describe your legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, and administrative proceedings.
I am a seasoned attorney with more than 15 years of experience practicing law. Every day, I help children who have been abused or neglected find permanence in safe, loving homes. Since 2004, I have been an Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee County, serving as Team Captain since 2015. I currently serve as an alternate on the Milwaukee Commission for Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. I have successfully represented the state in over 100 jury and bench trials, numerous appeals, and in written and oral arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
I am very active in the legal community. I serve as Chair of the Children & the Law Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin, as a Director for the Association for Women Lawyers and the Government Lawyers Division, and I train attorneys from across Wisconsin on issues dealing with children and the law.
Prior to my time as a local prosecutor, I was assistant attorney in the Town of Wayne and the Village of Kewaskum, and an associate at Kiefer Law Office with my father, Gerald Kiefer. There, I gained broad experience in all areas of the law, from real estate to trial litigation, to wills and estate planning.
Earlier in my career, I wrote sections of the Wisconsin Domestic Violence Prosecutor’s Manual which is still in use today. This manual outlines the best practices in the prosecution of domestic violence cases, and expands awareness on issues like the effect of domestic violence on children and the links between animal cruelty and domestic abuse.
I think the Constitution is a living document. Judges must apply the law to today’s world, not some mythical view of how our Founders might have addressed issues they could not have foreseen more than 240 years ago. – Rebecca Kiefer
Have you ever been convicted of a crime, either misdemeanor or felony? If so, explain. When did the incident(s) occur?
Have you ever been cited for a municipal offense? If so, explain. When did the incident(s) occur?
I have had speeding ticket(s) from when I was younger. All traffic citations are non-OWI related.
Do you support requiring any judge or justice to recuse him/herself from cases involving donors and indirect supporters who contribute money or other resources to the judge's election effort? If not, why not? If so, why? What contribution limits would you set?
Judges should recuse themselves from cases where there is an appearance of impropriety. I do not support a bright line rule about monetary contributions -- a group that provided large support outside of money could create a real or perceived conflict, and different amounts of money may have different impacts on people ($1,000 is different to someone who has modest means vs. someone who is wealthy, for example). I think it is important to know who has provided support to a campaign, so that the public is aware of where conflicts may lie, and so that all are cognisant of biases, real or perceived.
What are the greatest obstacles judges face when trying to deliver true justice? What can or should be done about them?
Assuring that we set aside our biases when making decisions. I understand that each one of us has implicit bias, and I strive everyday in my work as an ADA to assure that I acknowledge my own implicit bias and make sure I am making decisions based on the facts and the law, and not on any bias that I may have.
I also feel that lack of resources to truly address the underlying causes of why people become Justice-involved are a great obstacle, and the addiction crisis is what comes to mind. We are doing well with our drug treatment court and family drug treatment courts. I support treatment courts and diversions where appropriate.
Describe any other information you feel would be helpful for voters to know.
Throughout my career, my focus has been on achieving better outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens, some of whom are foster care children and victims of domestic violence. All kids deserve stability and an equal footing in the world. They should never be in foster care a minute longer than necessary, and it is my job to ensure the best possible outcome for them in the most expedient way, under the law. As a judge, I will use this experience to always remember that the goal is increased stability and harmony in our society, that everyone deserves a fair shake, and that the law has to be applied equally and fairly.
In my more than 15 years as an Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee County I have earned a reputation as a respected prosecutor with a proven track record. I am deeply committed to this community and know my experience, qualifications, and values will serve me well as Milwaukee County’s next Circuit Court Judge. Together, we can come up with better solutions to make our community stronger.
My opponent is a Scott Walker appointee. He is a former GOP candidate for the legislature and a member of the Federalist Society (an organization of conservatives and libertarians that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution). The Federalist Society maintains that the Constitution is a static entity, not a living document. This is problematic when you consider the context and time frame in which the Constitution was written, which is vastly different from today.
My opponent is also the former state Parole Commission chair. In his tenure as chair, very few inmates were paroled. Twice as many people have been granted parole on average currently than when my opponent was the Parole Commission chair. My understanding is that my opponent granted an average of 7 inmates per month, whereas under the present chair an average of 14 inmates a month are granted parole. This shows that when Mr. Gabler had the opportunity to make real change, he didn’t.
Another point of contrast between myself and my opponent is that throughout my career, I have always looked for ways to be more engaged and opportunities to lead. I have been promoted to a leadership position within my office, as a team leader since 2015. My opponent never achieved a leadership role in the DAs office. I have sought out leadership positions in other areas outside of my employment. I believe that what I put into something is what I get out of it, and therefore always put in my best effort.
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