"Walker's judges" is our effort to present information about Gov. Walker's appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications.
Name: J. Michael Bitney
Appointed to: Barron County Circuit Court
Appointment date: July 11, 2013 (elected to a 6-year term in 2014)
Law School – Hamline University
Undergraduate – Hamline University
High School – None listed on application
1993 - present – Washburn County district attorney
1985 - 1992 – Associate, Bitney Law Firm, Spooner, WI
Washburn, Sawyer & Rusk Tri-County Bar Association
Wisconsin District Attorneys Association
State of Wisconsin Bar
Federal Courts, Western District of Wisconsin
Legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, administrative proceedings: Worked with father and brother at Bitney Law Firm in Spooner. Represented northwestern Wisconsin clients in family, criminal, traffic, probate, businees, property, personal injury, contract, and bankruptcy matters.
Thereafter in 1992, I ran for the office of District Attorney for Washburn County on the Republican ticket. I was elected and took office in Jan. 1993. For the past twenty (20) years, I have proudly represented & served the People and victims of crime in both juvenile court and adult court in literally thousands of cases ranging from county ordinance violations to first degree intentional homicide cases and everything in between.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Jury, 100+; non-jury, 1000's; arbitration, 0; administrative bodies, 0.
Cases on appeal: 20+
Two most significant cases:
State of Wisconsin vs. Ernest E. Halford – The defendant and three co-defendants ... came to Washburn county looking to burglarize rural homes and steal cash, jewelry & firearms that they could then pawn to support their drug habits. A neighbor to one of the victims (Mr. Peter Barton) stumbled onto their burglary in progress and Halford and one other co-defendant, Edward Rollins, took Barton at gun point into a pine plantation behind the burglarized home where they tied him to a tree and shot him to death.
This was my first homicide jury trial. ... I successfully prosecuted all of the defendants who received lengthy prison sentences and the shooter, Haldord, (sic) received a sentence of life without parole plus 65 years.
State of Wisconsin vs. Michael Stoner – In a case that made headlines in 2007, the defendant and his girlfriend survived the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while en route to the hospital where her daughter was taken for emergency treatment.
Originally hailed as a hero, the public soon found out that Stoner was the only adult with the toddler when she was injured. ... Medical experts, however, concluded that her injuries were not accidental but were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. … Mr. Stoner ultimately entered a plea of no contest … and was given the maximum possible sentence of twelve (12) years six (6) months in prison.
State of Wisconsin vs. Eugene Huntington – Another case that I successfully prosecuted and which on appeal expanded the “excited utterance” and “residual hearsay exceptions” to the hearsay rule … The defendant, Eugene Huntington, was convicted of multiple counts of 1st Degree Sexual Assault of a Child. … The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed and the Wisconsin Supreme Court … held that the trial court had properly admitted statements that the victim made to her mother and to her health care providers.
All previous runs for office: Washburn County District Attorney, first elected in 1992 and re-elected since.
(Information about an unsuccessful run for Washburn County Circuit Court judge provided in the next answer.)
Involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: Yes, in addition to my own campaign(s) for Washburn Co. District Attorney, I ran for Washburn County Circuit Court Judge back in 1997. I lost in a close race to Eugene D. Harrington by just over three hundred votes.
I also campaigned for & supported Attorneys Thomas J. Duffy and Steven H. Gibbs in their previous campaigns for Circuit Court Judge in Sawyer and Chippewa counties respectively.
Finally, I endorsed and supported Steven Gibbs in his successful campaign for Chippewa County District Attorney.
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last six years:
Hon. Michael Gableman, Burnett County Circuit Court Judge and WI Supreme Court Justice.
Hon. James D. Babbitt, Barron County Circuit Court Judge, Branch III.
Professional or civic organizations, volunteer activities, service in a church or synagogue, or any other activities or hobbies that could be relevant or helpful to consideration of the application:
Volunteer firefighter, Spooner Fire District
Boy Scout leader and Scoutmaster, Spooner Troop 104
Head coach and assistant coach in youth soccer, baseball, football & basketball
Kiwanis Men’s Club member
Lion’s Club member
Lector and volunteer, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church
Volunteer Faith in Action
Spooner Little League Board member
Spooner Hoops Club Board member
Spooner Baseball Foundation Board member
Describe any significant pro bono legal work in the last five years: No answer given.
Why I want to be a judge – My passion and my calling has been to serve others. As you can see from my application, I have done this throughout my adult life both professionally and personally in many different capacities, both in the private section and as an elected official. ...
A good judge treats others (lawyers, litigants and staff) with dignity and respect. S/he is patient and kind. An effective judge is a good listener. S/he has a sense of humor and doesn’t take him or herself too seriously. A good judge comes to court well prepared …
A good judge is driven by the search for the truth.
Most importantly, a good judge is fair.
I possess these qualities. I have the legal and life experience, knowledge, work ethic and the demeanor to be a good Judge.
It’s time for me to take the next step in my professional career to expanded that service to others, as a Circuit Court Judge.
Best United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion in the last thirty years – Davis v. United States (2011)
The police searched Davis’ vehicle after placing him under arrest for obstructing an officer. During the vehicle search police found a handgun. Davis was ultimately convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. While Davis’ appeal was pending the U.S. Supreme Court announced it’s decision in Arizona v. Grant …overruling nearly (30) years of prior precedence. … In denying Davis’ appeal, the Supreme Court held that when police conduct a search in reasonable “good faith” reliance on previous precedence, the exclusionary rule does not apply.
The decision is significant for several reasons.
First, it reminds us that the “exclusionary rule” is not a personal constitutional right. …
Second, this decision clearly admonishes judges that not all fourth amendment violations require the harsh sanction of excluding otherwise reliable and trustworthy evidence. …
Third, it instructs the courts to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, examining the aforementioned “societal cost” of suppressing valuable evidence versus the flagrancy of police misconduct involved …
I believe that this is one of the best U.S. Supreme Court decisions within the last thirty (30) years because it serves as a powerful reminder that our entire system of jurisprudence is premised upon the search for the truth and that society should swallow the bitter pill of excluding otherwise reliable, trustworthy and valuable evidence when necessary but only as a last resort to curb egregious police misconduct.
I believe that this is one of the best U.S. Supreme Court decisions within the last thirty (30) years because it serves as a powerful reminder that our entire system of jurisprudence is premised upon the search for the truth and that society should swallow the bitter pill of excluding otherwise reliable, trustworthy and valuable evidence when necessary but only as a last resort to curb egregious police misconduct. – Barron County Circuit Judge J. Michael Bitney
Worst United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion in the last thirty years – Arizona v. Gant (2009)
Arizona v. Gant … which effectively overruled a single familiar standard that had guided law enfocement officers in federal and state courts for nearly three decades … providing law enforcement officers with the authority to search an automobile incident to the arrest of one or more of it’s occupants; was one of the worst decisions in recent US Supreme Court history.
In place of the aforementioned bright line rule, the Court adopted a new two-part rule under which an officer who arrests a vehicle operator or occupant may search the passenger compartment of the vehicle only 1) if the arrestee is within reaching or lunge distance of the car at the time of the search or 2) the officer has “reason to believe” that the vehicle contains “evidence of the offense of arrest.” (Whatever those phrases mean.)
The folly of this decision is readily evident. The first prong of this rule a) encourages officers to leave a potentially dangerous suspect(s) within arms reach of his vehicle to avoid the necessity of a search warrant or b) is irrelevant because intelligent law enforcement officers always secure suspects away from their vehicles before searching them to ensure the officer safety.
The second prong of this rule creates a yet-to-be-defined or understood legal standard allowing officer to search the suspect’s vehicle only if s/he has reason to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of the arrest. What does this rule mean? Is probable cause required? Will reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime suffice? And what does “evidence of the offense of the arrest” mean? As Justice Alito said in his dissent, it is certain to confuse law enfocement officers, prosecutors and judges for years to come. …
Judicial philosophy – Judges should interpret and uphold the law, not create it.
Our founding fathers enacted a constitution that created a democracy made up of three different branches of government; executive, legislative and judicial to ensure that our nation would survive through a system of checks and balances. …
When judicial activists forget this and attempt to legislate from the bench, this system is turned on it’s head and the voice or will of the people is drowned out.
Judges aren’t elected or appointed to create law, legislators are.
I also believe in the legal principle of Stare Decisis. Judges ought to respect precedencts established by prior decisions.
Any other information you feel would be helpful to your application:
List of personal references given, including contact information for JB Van Hollen, Hon. Michael J. Gableman, Hon. James D. Babbitt, and Hon. Kenneth L. Kutz.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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