"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: Audrey K Skwierawski
Appointed to: Milwaukee County Circuit Court
Appointment date: March 13, 2018 (up for election in spring 2019)
Law school – Georgetown University Law Center
Undergrad – Northwestern University
High School – Pius XI Catholic High School
2011-present – Attorney General-Violence Against Women Prosecutor, Wisconsin Department of Justice
2008-2010 – Coordinator, Commission on Domestic Violence and Sex Assault, City of Milwaukee
1994-2008 – Assistant District Attorney, Milwaukee County
State Bar of Wisconsin
Legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, administrative proceedings: Served as Milwaukee County and state prosecutor for a combined total of more than 20 years. Has conducted more than 100 jury trials and 50 court trials. Prosecuted a double homicide and sexual assault, along with traffic, general misdemeanor and juvenile court cases. Has special expertise in domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault cases. Job duties also include providing ongoing training and technical support statewide to prosecutors handling domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
Civil law experience includes assisting with a client who ran a health insurance plan and handling motions in various states; handling civil commitments of sexually violent persons cases as assistant district attorney.
No significant experience advocating in administrative proceedings.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Jury, more than 100; non-jury, more than 50; arbitration, 0; administrative bodies, 0.
Cases on appeal: None.
Three most significant cases in which you were involved:
1. State v. Billy Lee Morford – (Milwaukee County) 1996; State v. Morford, 2004
This is a Chapter 980 sexually violent person commitment case in which the respondent had already been committed for some time. Due to several factors such as advancing age and poor health Mr. Morford petitioned for what is called “supervised release” from his commitment so that he could live in the community while being supervised. I was part of the litigation team that fought against this release but ultimately lost. What ensued was a many months-long search for a private residence in the city of Milwaukee where Mr. Morford could live while being supervised. The Morford case lead (sic) to an enormous public outcry, creation of a bi-partisan state legislative committee to seek placement alternatives (on which I served), ordinances passed by municipalities to stop offenders from being placed in their communities and a series of legislative changes to Chapter 980 relating to the supervised release process. It also led to a motion for reconsideration of the initial release determination, which eventually became the subject of the above Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.
2. State v. Kenneth Spaulding – (Milwaukee County) 1997, 1998 and 1998
I prosecuted the Reverend Spaulding for sexual assault of multiple children in West Milwaukee, all of whose families had allowed him access to their children as part of church related youth group activities. As I worked with West Milwaukee and West Allis police we uncovered a pattern of sexual abuse of children in many other states. The defendant had moved around the country abusing special needs and troubled children. The vulnerability of these children made them poor witnesses, and when authorities got close the defendant would immediately move out of the jurisdiction. The fact that the defendant used his ministry to violate children offended me on a deeply personal level. I believe the case to be significant not from a legal perspective but from a human one. So many victims of the defendant heard about the prosecution that they made pilgrimage to Milwaukee for the closing arguments and the sentencing. Many victims from other states submitted letters and finally found closure after the defendant was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
3. State v. Nicholas Tuinstra – (Green Lake County) 2014
I worked with a litigation team of the elected District Attorney and another Assistant Attorney General to convict the defendant on two counts of first degree homicide and one count of stalking. The case involved domestic violence and I worked to bring in and qualify an expert on domestic abuse. The case is now in post-conviction motion stages. There are several issues of significance that will likely be decided on appeal during the next year.
Prior judicial experience: Supplemental court commissioner for Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Stephanie G. Rothstein. In that capacity I have officiated for many weddings but have not conducted any other judicial/quasi-judicial activities.
All previous runs for office: Ran unsuccessfully for Milwaukee County circuit judge in 2003.
Judicial or non-partisan candidates that you have publicly endorsed in the last six years:
Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky and Milwaukee County Circuit Judges Mark Sanders, Thomas McAdams, and Janet Protasiewicz
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:
Attorney General’s Statewide Sexual Assault Response Team Co-chair, 2012 - present
Wisconsin Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Executive Board Member, 1998 - 2001 • Wisconsin Association of State Prosecutors Executive Board member and vice president, 1996 - 2008
State of Wisconsin Violence Against Women Act Advisory Committee, 1999 - 2002, 2008 - present
Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Commissioner, 1998 - 2001
Wisconsin Legislative Council Special Committee Sex Offender Placement, 2007
Milwaukee County Judicial Oversight Initiative Advisory Committee, 1998 - 2000
Mt. Mary University Criminal Justice Advisory Board, 2014 - 2016
Polish Heritage Alliance, member
Polanki Women’s Organization, member
Washington Heights Neighborhood Association, member
St. Sebastian Catholic Church, member
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, member
Philoptocos Greek Women’s Organization, member
Pius XI High School Parent Producers (support performing arts at Pius XI High School), member
Describe any courses on law you have taught or lectures you have given: Applicant cites a long list of courses and lectures.
In my current role as violence against women resource prosecutor I am responsible for presenting numerous trainings throughout the state for diverse audiences including judges, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, probation agents, victim witness professionals and community advocates.
Pro bono legal work in the last five years: None. Wisconsin law dictates that prosecutors not engage in any other practice of law outside of their employment.
Why I want to be a judge – Our judicial system often represents the closest connection point for many Americans to interface with their Constitution and their government. With the exception of marriage and adoption, the hundreds who appear in circuit court in Milwaukee County every day come because of an unhappy, stressful circumstance. They come bearing the weight of criminal victimization, unresolved business disputes, divorce or some other potentially life-changing problem. In short, they come to the court when things may be at the worst in their lives. That is precisely when they deserve the best that our justice system can provide. They deserve a circuit court judge who delivers on the promise of the rule of law, honors the Constitution and has a deep understanding of the separation of powers.
Those appearing in Milwaukee courts also need a circuit court judge who can dispense justice without unnecessary delay. The courts in Milwaukee carry heavy dockets, so a circuit court judge must not only be able to follow the rule of law thoughtfully and accurately, but also expediently.
I want to be a judge because I have the skills to deliver the high level of juridical excellence combined with the efficiency that the people of Milwaukee County should expect when they walk into the courthouse. My educational experiences at both Northwestern University and Georgetown University create the foundation for the intellectual rigor required to make well-reasoned decisions. My more than twenty years of real world experience as a litigator (first in Milwaukee courtrooms and then in courtrooms all over the state) has honed my ability to deftly handle large calendars and complex cases without sacrificing quality.
They come bearing the weight of criminal victimization, unresolved business disputes, divorce or some other potentially life-changing problem. In short, they come to the court when things may be at the worst in their lives.
Best Wisconsin or US Supreme Court decision in the last 30 years – Paroline v. United States (2014)
As a prosecutor I have worked with hundreds of crime victims throughout the state. I believe Paroline v. United States ... is one of the best decisions of the past 30 years because in it the U.S. Supreme Court modeled treating victims with sensitivity, dignity, and respect. The court showed empathy towards the victim, protecting her privacy, and instructing on the importance of restitution.
The victim in Paroline, identified as "Amy," was sexually assaulted by her uncle as a young girl. Compounding his crimes, her uncle also recorded and distributed pornographic images of her abuse on the Internet. Paroline was convicted for possessing two of the 150 to 300 total images of child pornography in his custody. Amy sought $3.4 million in restitution, under the federal statute that mandates full restitution to child pornography victims, arguing that everyone who possesses images of her is continuing to contribute to her injury and, consequently, each of them should be required to pay the full amount for her losses.
The Supreme Court ruled that Paroline was not responsible for the entire $3.4 million but he should have to pay his share of restitution and that amount must be enough to send the message that his part in the crime was not victimless. Although the court did not rule that Amy should receive the full $3.4 million from Paroline, the court's decision is exemplary in its treatment of Amy as a crime victim.
In the decision, the justices show compassion and sensitivity towards Amy. In demonstrating empathy for Amy, the court signals to all who read this case that Amy is a real person worthy of our attention and respect. ...
The court protected the victim's right to privacy by allowing Amy to use a pseudonym rather than her real name. This allows Amy to avoid further humiliation as she puts her life back together. Not all courts allow victims to remain anonymous. When victims’ identities are revealed along with graphic details of the crimes committed against them, it exacerbates the trauma they experience. In modeling the use of a pseudonym, the U.S. Supreme Court indicates to lower courts that this practice is not only acceptable, but preferred. Lastly, the court fully embraced the importance of restitution noting that restitution is effective in rehabilitating offenders because it forces them to concretely confront the harm they caused.
Worst Wisconsin or US Supreme Court decision in the last 30 years – State v. Johnson (2013 WI 59.)
Crime victims often rely on mental health providers to help them heal emotionally and psychologically after they have been harmed. The psychologist-patient privilege is especially important because it encourages these crime victims to fully disclose information, without fear of embarrassment or humiliation, in order to receive much-needed counseling and support. It is not uncommon for defendants (especially in sexual assault cases) to attempt to pierce this privilege, arguing that the mental health records contain exculpatory evidence. Current Wisconsin law creates a dilemma for victims because once a judge makes the requisite findings, victims must choose to disclose their mental health records and testify against their abuser or choose not to disclose and be barred from testifying. This dilemma is at the heart of the what I believe to be the worst decision issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the past 30 years, State v. Johnson (2013 WI 59.)
Curtis Johnson was charged with one count of repeated acts of sexual assault to his stepdaughter when she was between 12 and 15 years old. During discovery Johnson moved the court for an in camera inspection of his niece's therapy records, asserting the records contained information about their relationship and were exculpatory. The circuit court ruled that Johnson met the requisite burden and ordered the victim to disclose her records. The victim asserted the psychologist-patient privilege and declined to allow the judge to see her records. In response, and departing from precedent, the judge issued an order allowing the victim to testify, without disclosing her records, provided the jury was instructed that it could infer that the undisclosed records would be helpful to the defense. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision and ruled that the victim could not testify as long as she was "exerting" her privilege. State v. Johnson (No. 2011 AP 2864-CRAC).
In State v. Johnson (2013 WI 59) the Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision in which two justices did not participate. The court offered no legal analysis in its decision. Rather the opinion presents various issues and indicates which justices decided one way or the other on each issue. Ultimately the court reversed the appellate court's decision and found "under varying rationales" that the victim could testify without disclosing her mental health records. The decision was silent as to the curative instruction. The parties and the trial court did not know how to proceed because the decision offered no analysis, departed from precedent, and did not discuss the curative instruction. Both the state and defense asked the court to reconsider this decision.
The Supreme Court issued a second per curiam decision in which it admitted its first decision was confusing and left the parties and the trial court "without sufficient guidance or ability to proceed consistent with precedent." State v. Johnson (2014 WI 16). In the end, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision. The dilemma for Johnson's niece remained.
Judicial philosophy: I recently taught an undergraduate university course on the way our criminal justice system handles various forms of abuse – sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and elder abuse. I inherited a set of lesson plans from a previous professor who graciously shared them with me. But instead of starting with the first plan and chapter of the book, I started where I thought all students of criminal justice should start – with an intensive review of our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. Working from the municipal level to the county then the state and federal levels we developed a working “map” on the board depicting the three branches of government as well as their responsibilities.
Just as I chose this lesson to be the foundation for the students, I recognize it as the foundation of my judicial philosophy. As judges in our courts work toward the ideal of “equal justice under law” each must have a firm grounding and understanding of their role in our democratic system.
With this foundation in place, the circuit court judge works to conduct motions, facilitate truthful testimony, conduct fair trials and apply the laws as enacted by the legislature. And the good circuit court judge carries out these duties while striving to adhere to the highest level of personal and professional excellence in every case no matter how large or small.
Conducting a great many day to day duties at a high level of excellence while keeping in mind one’s role in the larger system of democracy can seem an impossible task, but I am guided by the many exemplary judges in our state whom I have had the good fortune to observe in action. I do not pretend to be able to work to their levels because taken together they have set the bar high. Knowing it can be done, however, helps me to aspire.
My own undergraduate alma mater, Northwestern University, was founded on the motto, “Whatsoever things are true” taken from Philippians, 4.8:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
If a firm understanding of the separation of powers forms the foundational “floor” for my judicial philosophy, then these words capture the aspirational “ceiling.” For whatever else a judge may seek to do, he or she should take the bench thinking always upon the search for what is true, what is honest and what is just.
Previous application for judicial appointment: Application for appointment as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge submitted to the Governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission in 2003.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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