"Walker's judges" is our effort to present information about former Gov. Walker's appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications. While Walker has left office, WJI will continue to profile his appointees who are still in office. We also will profile Gov. Tony Evers' judicial appointees.
Name: Scott J. Nordstrand
Appointed to: St. Croix County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Jan. 2, 2019
Law School – University of North Dakota School of Law
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin – River Falls
High School – Hudson High School
Recent legal employment:
2014 - present – General counsel and special projects, Solutran, Inc.
2007-2014 – Director of administration and legal counsel, SSG Corp.
2005-2006 – Commissioner, Alaska Department of Administration
2005 – Alaska acting attorney general
State Bar Association
Alaska Bar Association
Legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, administrative proceedings: First worked at two private firms in Anchorage, Alaska. Practice included employment, commercial and personal injury law.
Accepted position as deputy attorney general for Alaska in 2003.
In this role, I served as the Chief Deputy to the Attorney General and supervised 140 attorneys. The breadth, complexity and diversity of the civil legal matters facing the State of Alaska were extraordinary. Unlike most states, Alaska statutorily prohibited other departments of government from employing attorneys, so the civil lawyers I supervised addressed every non-criminal matter in state government.
No representation of clients in court or administrative hearings since becoming corporate lawyer.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Jury, <5; non-jury, <10; arbitration, <10; administrative bodies, <10.
Cases on appeal: 10
Three most significant cases:
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1547 v. Alaska Utility Construction, Inc – This case concerned union harassment against a small non-union electrical contractor. It had a contentious and lengthy pre-trial and trial process, culminating in this appeal successfully defending our punitive damage award. We experienced periodic threats of violence directed at our client and firm. At the time, the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) was the most formidable and aggressive union in Alaska and this case was considered to be a true case of David defeating Goliath.
Petro Star, Inc. v. Northland Alaska, Inc. – In this case, I brought a negligence action on behalf of Petro Star regarding a fuel truck accident at a construction site on the North Slope near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. The jury trial was set in Barrow—the closest venue to the site of the incident. The judge, attorneys and witnesses all flew into Barrow and stayed together at a hotel on the Arctic Ocean near the courthouse. It was dark nearly every hour of the day and the walk to the courthouse— less than a block—was quite a challenge at 45 degrees below.
My client representatives were Alaska natives, as Petro Star was a subsidiary of an Alaska Native Corporation. They joined me at the plaintiff’s table for the first few days of trial. Surprisingly, one day they came to court and told me that they could no longer attend trial as they needed to begin preparations for the whaling season. I continued without them. Unfortunately, the jury did not find in favor of my client, but it was a memorable week trying a case in the northern most city in the world. And it tested my ability to adapt to extraordinary circumstances.
Taranto v. North Slope Borough – Concerned Barrow (Alaska) residents, including the NSB (North Slope Borough) clerk, believed that Sheila Taranto, a local taxicab operator, was providing illegal alcohol and drugs to local residents from her cab. So, they prepared a petition seeking the names of those with information regarding Taranto’s illegal activities and put it at the front desk of the NSB clerk’s office. Taranto brought a defamation suit against NSB.
NSB retained me after a failed attempt to dismiss the case before the Alaska Supreme Court. On remand, I brought a motion before the trial court seeking to establish the law of the case that government speech concerning matters of public safety were entitled to constitutional or common law protection thus requiring Taranto to prove “actual malice” to prevail on her defamation claim and seeking summary judgment. The trial court agreed with my analysis, as did the Alaska Supreme Court in the case cited above. Ultimately, Taranto filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. One of my writing samples is the brief I filed on behalf of NSB in opposition, so more details about the case can be found there. The petition was denied and NSB prevailed.
The process of developing and presenting a constitutional defense for NSB, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, was a satisfying professional challenge.
All previous runs for office:
Board of Supervisors, District 2; St. Croix County; April 3, 2018; elected; 58% of the vote.
Clerk of Court; St. Croix County; November 4, 1980; not elected; 42% of the vote.
School Board; Hudson; April 3, 1979; elected; percent of the vote unknown.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Republican Party of St. Croix County
Executive Committee Member (1995-1996)
Republican Party of Alaska
Anchorage Chairman (1995-1996)
Republican Party of Alaska
District 11 Chairman (1994-1996)
Republican Party of Alaska
State Campaign Committee Member (1983-1984)
Republican Party of Wisconsin
Campaign & Recruitment Committee Chairman (1983-1984)
Republican Party of 10th Senate District & St. Croix County
Executive Committee Member (1983-1984)
Republican Party of Third Congressional District, Wisconsin
State Legislative Campaign Manager—Bob Harer (1982)
29th Assembly District, Wisconsin
Campaign Committee Chairman (1982)
Republican Party of St. Croix County
Republican Candidate for County Clerk of Court (1980)
St. Croix County
Field Organizer (1980)
Reagan for President Campaign, Minnesota & Wisconsin
Wisconsin Republican Campaign School
Young Republican Chairman (1979)
Republican Party of Third Congressional District & St. Croix County
Youth Chairman (1978)
Kasten for Governor, five western Wisconsin counties
Youth Chairman (1976)
Gundersen for Congress, three western Wisconsin counties
Delegate to local caucuses and state conventions (recurring) Alaska & Wisconsin Republican Parties
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last six years:
As the Chair of the St. Croix County Republican Party for the past five years, I have publicly supported all of Governor Walker’s appointed judges and various other conservative candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and St. Croix County Board. Note that I recently stepped down from my position as party chair and presently hold no party office.
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:
Chairman and Board of Trustees – First Baptist Church of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota
Vice president, Board of Directors; Advisory Board –Friends of the Governor’s Mansion Foundation, Juneau, Alaska
President and Board of Directors – Friends of Independence Mine Foundation, Anchorage, Alaska
President, treasurer and Board of Directors – Mabel T. Caverly Senior Center, Inc., Anchorage, Alaska
Describe any significant pro bono legal work in the last five years: Assisted an attorney for the First Baptist Church of St. Paul who challenged right-of-way maintenance assessments levied against the church by the City of St. Paul.
For decades, the City had been using the tool of special assessments to circumvent constitutional prohibitions against taxation of churches. This litigation effectively ended that practice and required the City to dramatically limit the use of special assessments for road maintenance funding. The actions successfully recovered substantial sums for the church. Ultimately, I received some compensation for my work assisting the church’s counsel, but the work was largely pro bono.
Why I want to be a judge – A judge must have the patience to deal with litigants and their attorneys – as well as the emotions that they inevitably bring to the courtroom. A judge must have the intellectual stamina to filter though advocacy to find the law. A judge must face an enormous caseload, with minimal support and encouragement. A judge must realize – at all times that every decision he or she makes affects the lives of real people. A case is not an intellectual exercise, but a serious search for justice.
All that being said, a judge undoubtedly faces the personal task of intervening in many difficult, sometimes tragic, circumstances. A sense of perspective and even humor will serve him or her well. And while balancing all of these factors, a judge must evince the decorum and confidence of this extraordinary position of trust. ...
I applied to the fill Superior Court positions in Anchorage, Alaska on four different occasions, so the desire to serve on the bench is not new for me. Unfortunately, under Alaska’s judicial appointment system a judicial council filters the applicants available for appointment by the Governor. My conservative political point of view—as evidenced by government appointments by a Republican Attorney General and Governor—was more than enough to rule out my nomination. The Alaska Judicial Council was controlled by a liberal bar association and legacy appointments from prior Democrat governors.
My conservative political point of view—as evidenced by government appointments by a Republican Attorney General and Governor—was more than enough to rule out my nomination. The Alaska Judicial Council was controlled by a liberal bar association and legacy appointments from prior Democrat governors. - St. Croix County Circuit Judge Scott J. Nordstrand
Best United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion in the last thirty years – McAdams v. Marquette University, 2018
In McAdams, Justice Daniel Kelly delivered a blistering rebuke to Marquette University for suspending a tenured political science professor, John McAdams, based upon his blog post criticism of an Instructor’s interaction with a student.
McAdams challenged the Instructor’s comments prohibiting debate in her classroom on the question of gay rights. According to the Instructor, “everybody agrees on this, and there is no need to discuss it.” ... After class, a student told the Instructor that the topic should be open to debate. The Instructor countered that statements in opposition to gay marriage and the like were “homophobic” and “will not be tolerated.”
In a clear and persuasive 27-page opinion, Justice Kelly systematically deconstructed the University’s purported legal basis for suspending McAdams. He laid bare the breach of the University’s contractual commitment to academic freedom and demonstrated the biased, result-oriented internal process that had stripped McAdams of his employment. ...
Unstated in the opinion, but nonetheless evident, is the clear implication that had the criticism been of a conservative political view, no discipline would have been imposed and the University would have touted principles of academic freedom to defend the speech.
The McAdams opinion is an important rebuttal to the culture of intimidation experienced by many expressing conservative (or even moderate) political opinions at college and universities across the country. It is further significant given its reliance upon principles adopted by the University from the American Association of University Professors, likely extending application of the decision to many other colleges and universities.
Worst United States or Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion in the last thirty years – Harnischfeger Corp. v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, 1995
Often the most destructive legal opinions are agonizingly brief. Such is the case with the 5- page Harnischfeger decision.
The central legal question in this case was: [W]hat standard of review the courts of this state should apply when called upon to evaluate an agency's interpretation of a statute. ...
Or put another way, should we let the fox guard the hen house? ...
The court codified the three levels of deference to agency interpretation of statutes— “great weight, due weight and de novo review”—with the first being the most destructive to constitutional principles. ...
Translation? If a statute is ambiguous in any way, the agency can decide how to resolve the ambiguity and the courts will not question its conclusion.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s surrender to state agencies, culminating in the Harnischfeger decision, was a direct assault on the separation of powers doctrine. The court not only diminished its constitutional power to interpret the law, it also empowered government agencies at the expense of the legislative branch charged with the authority to create the law in the first place. So, the unelected bureaucrats gained power, as the courts stood by watching (or deferring).
(Nordstrand said Kelly, the Supreme Court justice, in June 2018 wrote an opinion in Tetra Tech EC, Inc. v. Wisconsin Department of Revenue, that restored the separation of powers and reined in agencies' powers.)
The days of unfettered agency interpretation of its own statutes have come to an end.
Judicial philosophy – The role of the judiciary is to faithfully and fairly interpret the laws passed by the legislative and executive branches of government. The policy choices made by those branches, unless they clearly offend constitutional principles, must be enforced as intended. Judges should not substitute their public policy vision for that of those constitutionally charged with making it.
I can assure you that in my small corner of the judiciary in St. Croix County (should I be appointed), Governor Walker will find no “knight-errant” on the bench and I will do everything in my power to keep the American foundation fully intact.
Any other information you feel would be helpful to your application:
There is one final quality about me that I want to pass along. I am an 11-year recovered alcoholic. I don’t shy away from identifying myself that way and everyone who knows me at all knows this about me too.
I owe my recovery to God and a very kind and wise lawyer from Cumberland, Wisconsin, who showed me the path. His name was Paul Hilton and he was a gift to those seeking recovery. He passed on a couple of years ago, but not before he and I wrote a small book to help those seeking recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. It basically codifies the simple, understandable explanation of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that he taught at Hazelden and elsewhere for decades. Our book, Simple But Not Easy, is listed in my publications.
I offer this background not only to explain the book, but also to affirm that an understanding of addiction and recovery is a valuable tool for anyone in the justice system these days. In our county, judges and law enforcement officers agree that drugs and alcohol play a pivotal role in the majority of criminal acts. I felt the fear and frustration of addiction, followed by the gratitude and joy of recovery. I believe that my personal story will provide me compassion, tempered by experience, when someone with that same fear and frustration appears before me.
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