In Waukesha County, incumbent Circuit Judge Fred Strampe is challenged by Attorney Cody Horlacher. Election day is April 4. Absentee and early voting are underway.
Strampe received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Gov. Tony Evers appointed him to the bench in November 2022. Prior to his appointment, he was an attorney at the Borgelt, Powell, Peterson and Frauen law firm.
Horlacher received his law degree from Marquette University Law School. His Wisconsin Bar listing indicates that he works for Horlacher Law LLC.
WJI asked each of the candidates to answer a series of questions. The questions asked are patterned after some of those on the job application Gov. Evers uses when he is considering judicial appointments.
Strampe answered WJI's questionnaire, and his answers are printed as submitted, without editing. Horlacher did not respond to the questionnaire.
Why do you want to become a judge?
I currently serve the people of Waukesha County as a Judge in Branch 7 of the Waukesha Circuit Court. Each day in my courtroom, I enforce the Rule of Law in a way that is equitable and leaves all parties understanding that the process was fair.
I began my professional life serving our Country and I want to continue my professional life serving the people of Waukesha County and Wisconsin. As a young man, I was prepared for the rewards and challenges of serving as a junior officer in the Army. My 25 years as a litigator prepared for the rewards and challenges of serving as a Circuit Court Judge. The mission of my alma matter, The United States Military Academy, is to “develop leaders of character for a lifetime of service to the Country.” By serving as a Circuit Court Judge, I am continuing my service to our State and our Country.
Name one of the best United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinions in the last thirty years and explain why you feel that way.
I believe Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc, 509 U.S. 579, (1993), which was adopted in Wisconsin by Sec. 907.02(1), Wis. Stats., and Siefert v. Balink, 2017 WI 2, has a great impact on the people of Wisconsin, even if few people know about it. When Wisconsin adopted the Daubert Standard, a great deal of authority was transferred from the Jury to the Circuit Court Judge. Under Daubert, the Circuit Court must determine if an expert’s opinions are reliable. While the Court repeatedly indicates that the Circuit Court is not taking the place of a Jury, a party whose case is dismissed because their expert was ruled unreliable will certainly disagree. Although Daubert and Seifert list numerous factors the Court can consider, the Siefert Court stated, “the trial court may consider some, all, or none of the factors.” Siefert, Para 64. The Siefert Court explains that the Trial Court should not accept expert testimony just because the expert is qualified. Seifert, Para 75. However, the Court goes on to explain that the reliability standard can be satisfied by the witness’s “personal knowledge and experience.” Siefert, Para 78. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ends its analysis by deciding that a Circuit Courts decision to admit, or exclude, expert testimony will only be reversed if the Circuit Court abused its discretion. Seifert, Para. 93.
The standard adopted in Seifert gives the Circuit Court tremendous power in any case that requires expert testimony. In many cases, at least one party will have a reason to challenge the other side’s expert. Once challenged, the Circuit Court can exclude the testimony based on “all, some, or none,” of the relevant factors identified in Daubert and Siefert. If there is a plausible reason to exclude the evidence, the Circuit Court’s decision will survive appeal.
Because of the broad authority Circuit Court Judges have, to exclude or admit expert testimony, the selection of Judges may be more important than the people of Wisconsin know. The significant power granted to the Circuit Court relating to expert testimony could have a positive or negative effect on the people of Wisconsin. Many citizens of Wisconsin do not know the Circuit Court has this much control over expert testimony. Because of this, Circuit Court Judges must carefully analyze any challenges to expert testimony. Expert testimony should be excluded when the testimony is clearly unreliable. If expert testimony is excluded, the Circuit Court should make a record explaining why the testimony was excluded, so the people of Wisconsin understand why the expert was not allowed to testify.
Describe your judicial philosophy.
Our system of government only works if we have strong, independent, and impartial Judges committed to the rule of law. Circuit Court Judges must be fair and impartial without preconceived agendas or goals.
Describe the two most significant cases in which you were involved as either an attorney or a judicial officer.
Local Government Property Insurance Fund (“LGPIF”) v. Lexington Insurance Company
I represented LGPIF. This case involved a fire that occurred at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in July of 2013. LGPIF insured Milwaukee County and determined that the fire was a covered loss. LGPIF paid over 17.4 million dollars for this loss and sought to recover a portion of this amount from its reinsurer, Lexington. Lexington refused to pay the loss claiming the damages were the result of an electrical failure, which was not a covered loss. LGPIF filed suit to recover the reinsurance benefits contained in the insurance policy issued by Lexington. Along with Co-counsel Barbara O’Brien, I was responsible for all written discovery, expert retention, depositions, and pre-trial motions. My involvement focused on the damages sustained at the courthouse and the competing expert opinions regarding the cause of the loss and the resulting damage. The matter settled just before trial.
Holder et. al. v. Fraser Shipyards
I represented Capstan Corporation, the owner of Fraser Shipyards. This matter involved four related cases with 70 plaintiffs. All the plaintiffs were shipyard workers at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, WI. They were exposed to hazardous levels of lead while preforming work on the HERBERT C. JACKSON, a great lakes freighter owned by Interlake Steamship Company. While each worker had different alleged injuries, most of the workers claimed traumatic brain injuries resulting in memory and processing problems, along with some physical injuries from the lead exposure. Plaintiffs claimed that Fraser Shipyard, Capstan and Interlake knew that lead paint on the vessel would be disturbed by Fraser's work and took no preventative measures to protect the workers. I took over the representation of Capstan a few months before the Holder case was set for trial. I was responsible for investigating the loss, written discovery, depositions, expert retention, procedural motions, discovery motions, motions in limine and pre-trial submissions. The Holden case settled less than one week before trial was set to begin. The other three cases settled after significant discovery.
Stuart v. Mortle
I represented Mortle Trucking. Mortle performed snow and ice removal services at the clinic where Ms. Stuart's Doctor worked. Ms. Stuart slipped and fell in the clinic's parking lot after a snow event. She sued Mortle and the property owners claiming that the parking lot was negligently maintained. Ms. Stuart claimed significant back injuries from the fall. She had over $400,000 in past medicare expenses and claimed over $500,000 for future medical expenses. Additionally, Ms. Stuart had a 20 year history of back issues. In December, 2021, the case was tried by Judge Chris Foley in Milwaukee County. After a five day trial, the jury concluded that Mortle was not negligent.
Describe your legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, and administrative proceedings.
My legal practice was focused on civil litigation. I appeared in Circuit Courts throughout Wisconsin and the Eastern and Western District Courts. I handled all phases of civil litigation from the initial pleading through trial. The majority of my time was spent on investigations, depositions, document analysis, discovery, settlement discussions and pre-trial motions. My legal specialty was trial practice. I also had extensive experience with claims at assisted living facilities, insurance coverage issues and product liability claims, along with most types of personal injury cases, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injuries.
As part of my work for Assisted Living Facilities and Day Care providers, I handled several cases involving the Division of Hearings and Appeals. These appeals involved orders to close a facility, revocation of licensing, need for a plan of correction, and requests to reduce fines. I participated in pre-hearings and scheduling/status conferences with Administrative Law Judges.
I mediated hundreds of cases all over the State of Wisconsin and represented parties in arbitrations approximately 15-20 times. I was also appointed by the defense as an Arbitrator approximately 10 times. None of these cases proceeded to a full arbitration.
Have you ever been convicted of a crime, either misdemeanor or felony? If so, explain. When did the incident(s) occur?
Do you support requiring a justice or judge to recuse him/herself from cases involving donors and indirect supporters who contribute money or other resources to the judge's election? If not, why not? If so, why? What contribution limits would you set?
Wisconsin has some of the weakest recusal rules in the nation. I support strengthening those rules in an open, transparent process. The judicial code states that “a judge must recuse himself or herself whenever the facts and circumstances the judge knows or reasonably should know raises reasonable question of the judge's ability to act impartially.” Judges should consider the appearance of bias in cases in which significant donors to their campaigns are involved.
What are the greatest obstacles judges face when trying to deliver true justice? What can or should be done about them?
Significant shortages of prosecutors, public defenders, and private bar attorneys willing to take on public defender cases are causing delays which have a negative impact on everyone in the Criminal Justice System including victims, families, and defendants.
Provide any other information you feel would be helpful to potential voters deciding for whom to vote.
My opponent is a former State legislator who is unqualified to be a judge. According to CCAP, he has handled exactly one case in Circuit Courts. He signed a letter to then VP Mike Pence on January 5, calling for the disruption of the transition of power, citing unfounded claims of election irregularities. He has been endorsed by the most extreme anti-choice groups in Wisconsin, one of which opposes contraception and would ban abortions without exceptions.
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