Spring election 2021: Sixth District circuit court judge primary candidates Q&A

Voters in Kenosha County will be able to vote in a primary on Tuesday to narrow the field for Sixth District circuit court judge on the April ballot.

The candidates are Angela Cunningham, Angelina Gabriele and Elizabeth Pfeuffer. Two will advance to the April 6 election.

Current Sixth District Judge Mary Wagner is retiring.

The same questionnaire was submitted by westofthei.com to each candidate by email.

Here is their biographical information followed by their question responses, presented in alphabetical order:

Angela Cunningham — Age: 41. Village, town, city where you reside: City of Kenosha. Education: Bachelor’s degree in social welfare and women’s studies from UW-Madison; master’s in social work from UW-Madison; Law degree from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Occupation: Criminal Defense Attorney; Guardian Ad Litem; Public Interest Attorney; Prosecutor. Previous elected/appointed public office or pertinent professional/life experience: Catholic Charities Board of Trustees; Coalition for Dismantling Racism; Urban League of Racine and Kenosha Board of Directors; Lincoln Park Community Conversations; former third-grade reading tutor; former member Peace Learning Circles Board of Directors; Mental Health/AODA Services Committee of the Kenosha County Human Services Board; Kenosha Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (KLIHF) Collaborative; Kenosha Community Health Center Board of Directors; HOPE Council Board of Directors; Leadership Kenosha Planning Committee. NAACP Freedom Fund Committee.

Angelina Gabriele — Age: 51. Village, town, city where you reside: Pleasant Prairie. Education: University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison WI, September 1992-May 1994, Juris Doctorate with Honors, Moot Court Participant & Coach 1993-1995, Mathy’s Award for Outstanding Oral Advocacy, University of Cincinnati Law School Products Liability Competition -Best Respondent’s Brief; University of Wisconsin, Madison WI
May 1992, Bachelor of Arts with Distinction Major – Political Science. Occupation: Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office-Deputy District Attorney January 2017-Present Supervise 16 Assistant District Attorneys, Involved in shaping policy and procedures for my office, law enforcement, and legislation. Involved in implementation of treatment courts and drug diversion programs, Improving the efficiency and outcomes of the office, training law enforcement, prosecuting homicide, sexual assault, physical abuse and elder abuse cases, teaching prosecutors across Wisconsin on legal issues and trial skills, handled post-conviction motions/appeals on
sexual assault and homicide cases including working to uphold the conviction of the man who murdered Deputy Frank Fabiano. Represent the District Attorney’s Office at Kenosha County Coalition Against Human
Trafficking, Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, Kenosha County Organizational Review Team looking for solutions to child abuse and neglect; Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office — Assistant Attorney General
November 2014- January 2017 Prosecuted conflict cases, multi-jurisdictional cases, commitment of sexually violent offenders in treatment facilities to protect the public , and public integrity cases across the State. Trained prosecutors statewide on legal issues and trial skills, trained law enforcement on legal issues pertaining to policing. Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office — Assistant District Attorney June 1995-July 1996, March 1997-November 2013 Handled thousands of felony and misdemeanor criminal cases with a focus on sexual assaults, handled cases in juvenile court including delinquencies, civil cases involving children who had been abused or neglected, and termination of parental rights. Team Member representing the District Attorney’s Office on Child Death Review Team looking for ways to prevent child deaths and Organizational Review Team
looking for solutions to child abuse and neglect. Previous elected/appointed public office or pertinent professional/life experience: Secretary and Board Member of Government Lawyers Division of State Bar of Wisconsin (find years); Board Member (2011-2013)& President Elect (2014) of the Kenosha County Bar Association; Mentor, Brass Elementary School; Tremper Gridiron Club Italian American Ladies Auxiliary; Kenosha Organizational Review Committee; Kenosha Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Team; Kenosha Child Death Review Team; Kenosha Coalition Against Human Trafficking
Inns Program through St. Mary’s Church (previously).

Elizabeth M. Pfeuffer — Age: 48. Village, town, city where you reside: Somers. Education: St. Mark’s, Lincoln Jr. High, Tremper High School.
1995 – UW-Madison with Distinction – double major in Political
Science and Behavioral Science & Law and a certificate in Criminal
Justice. 1998- Top Ten nationally ranked law school – University of
Virginia School of Law. Since graduating law school, I have attended numerous continuing education courses. Since 2016, I have primarily attended judicial training seminars and the following is a small sample of the trainings I have attended: Judicial Ethics (annual trainings), Legislative
and Case Law Updates – twice a year, The WI Rules of Evidence, With
Applications to Digital Evidence, High Conflict People and Courts: What
you can do to get better results, Handling Case with Self-Represented
Litigants, Sexual Harassment in the Courtroom, Addiction and Mental
Health: What Judges Need to Know, Implicit Bias, Landlord/Tenant Law,
Legal Issues in Indian Cases, Safer Approach to Child-Informed Decision
Making in Family Court Cases. Occupation: Court Commissioner – member of the judicial branch of government. I was appointed in 2016 by the Kenosha County Circuit Court judges to serve as a judicial official and they have reappointed me each year. I issue court orders, hold contested
hearings often involving complex legal issues, I approve or reject legal pleadings, and handle between 60-100 cases each week. A
commissioner has almost the same authority as a judge – there are
only a few things we cannot do that the judges can. I also sign
warrants, review probable cause statements from law enforcement to
determine whether someone can be held pending a hearing or
charged with a crime, set bond, conduct preliminary hearings and
handle small claims matters as needed. Court commissioners have
tremendous judicial discretion and I make sure that I run my own
courtroom and docket so that everyone has their fair day in court.
Previous elected/appointed public office or pertinent professional/life experience: Senior Deputy District Attorney – Denver Colorado: prosecuted
misdemeanors and felonies and conducted countless trials. I
regularly handled serious felonies involving sexual assault, domestic
violence and crimes against children. I also worked in the Drug
Unit where I made charging decisions and worked with the Drug
Court, which is just like the one in Kenosha – the focus on
rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration. Private Attorney – experienced in employment law, workers’ compensation, family, paternity, criminal defense, restraining orders, child abuse/neglect, civil law and small claims, guardianships, and juvenile law. I had my own law firm in Kenosha County until I was appointed commissioner. Guardian ad Litem – appointed by the judges to represent children and vulnerable adults in cases involving divorce, paternity, guardianships, abuse/neglect, termination of parental rights, probate, juvenile law (truancies and delinquencies). Professor of Legal Studies (full time) – worked at Concordia
University of Wisconsin for six years as an associate professor of
legal studies and was promoted to Chair of the Legal Studies
Department in the School of Business. I taught at the college level:
Business Law, Corporate Law, Administrative Law, Constitutional
Law, Procedural Criminal Law, Introduction to Courts and I also
taught a course at the Masters’ level – Education and Law.
Professor of Trial Advocacy (part time) – I taught law students
how to conduct a jury trial from start to finish at Marquette Law
School for five years. It was an evening class so after I was done at
my law firm, I would teach this class in Milwaukee once a week for
the entire semester. I wrote all of my own trial materials and
classroom activities and taught the students everything they needed
to know to be successful in a courtroom. Professor (part-time) – Carthage College: I taught in their paralegal program. I have extensive volunteer experience, both legal and other. I volunteered my legal service to write powers of attorney and wills for first responders in Kenosha County. (Wills for Heroes program). I provided free legal advice and representation at the ELCA Outreach Center in Kenosha – Legal Advice Center. I also
developed and coordinated a popular program called “Lunch, Learn
and the Law;” once a month for two years, we had lawyers or judges
come speak on a topic and explain legal concepts to anyone from
the community who wanted to attend. I received the WI Pro Bono Honor Society award twice for my work in Kenosha County prior to my appointment as commissioner. I was appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to represent our judicial district on the Preliminary Review Committee in Madison; the committee decides what ethics violation charges should be filed against attorneys throughout the state. I served as a volunteer mediation in the Kenosha County Small Claims Court prior to my appointment as commissioner. I have been a member of the Kenosha County Judicial Engagement Team and the Kenosha County Courthouse Security Committee. I was a volunteer attorney-mentor for Teen Court and a coach of high school mock trial teams for multiple years. Vice-Chair of Access to Justice Committee. Registration committee member and fundraiser committee member–Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for 5 years.

1.) Why are you the best choice for Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge?

Cunningham — I am the best-qualified candidate because of my breadth of experience both inside the courtroom and in the community. I have experience making charging decisions, working with victims, and keeping the community safe as a prosecutor. I have experience representing people charged with a crime and understanding the backstories and motivations that caused them to come into contact with the criminal justice system. I represented low-income people as a public interest attorney. Currently, I am a guardian ad litem, representing the best interests of some of the most vulnerable in our community in family law cases, guardianship actions, children   in need of protection and services cases, and termination of parental rights cases. Also, my previous career in social services and my community involvement gave me experience and understanding of issues the courts regularly deal with, including poverty, mental illness, alcohol, and other drug addiction, implicit bias, and systemic racism.

Gabriele — For 25 years, I have dedicated myself to protecting and bringing justice to the most vulnerable in our community – victims of sexual assault, homicides, and elder abuse. I have worked on civil cases involving the protection of children who were abused and neglected and the termination of parental rights for parents who abandoned or abused their children. I have extensive experience on post-conviction legal issues to protect the
convictions for the guilty including the man who murdered Deputy Frank Fabiano. At the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, I worked to keep sexually violent criminals in locked treatment facilities for the protection of the community. My 25 years of courtroom experience handling these serious cases, the complicated legal issues that come with them, the proven ability to make the important but tough decisions at every stage of a case, and my many felony trials has given me the judgement to skillfully handle any kind of case. I also bring a unique perspective with my one on one experience with victims of crime – the understanding of their trauma, my personal understanding of the impact of crime & incarceration on families through discussions with my foster son, my experience and interest in serving justice, and my collaboration with key stakeholders to solve problems. I have earned their respect because of my commitment to protecting the people of Kenosha. No other candidate has the proven experience that I have – 25 years working to achieve the goals of protection, prevention, diversion, and rehabilitation in Kenosha. I am bound
as a public servant, as opposed to a private attorney seeking to get the best result for a client, to seek the truth and justice. For me, it has always been about doing the right thing- both in my professional and personal life.
My lifelong dedication to protecting Kenosha and the rule of law has earned me the bipartisan and nonpartisan support of DA Graveley, Sheriff Beth, Gail Gentz (former Kenosha Clerk of Courts), former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, Kenosha Professional Police Association, Pleasant Prairie Professional Police Association, Rep. Tip McGuire, Somers Village President George Stoner, Pleasant Prairie Village President John Steinbrink Sr, retired Judge Wilbur Warren, along with many attorneys including Attorney Ted Kmiec, Patrick Cafferty, Mary Kerkman, Philip Marry, and Phil Godin.

Pfeuffer — A Circuit Court Judge makes decisions that directly affect the lives of everyone involved in the case as well as the community.  They have to be ready to handle a variety of cases; criminal, civil, paternity, family, probate, guardianship, juvenile, or child abuse/neglect.   It is important that a judge already have knowledge and experience in different areas of law before taking the bench; a judge should not be learning or studying new laws just days or even moments before they handle a court case. Judges have a different skill set than attorneys and the best predictor of a great judge is someone who already has judicial experience in addition to legal experience. Attorneys argue for their clients and attorneys are never neutral in court or in their cases.  As a prosecutor, my job was to convince a jury to convict a defendant, to negotiate plea bargains, to make filing and charging decisions, and to make recommendations to the judge regarding outcomes and sentencings.  As a private attorney, my job was to convince a jury or judge to find in favor of my client and made legal decisions to help advance the case.  Although I had experience making legal decisions and recommendations, it wasn’t until I joined the judicial branch in 2016 that I developed the skills necessary to make me an excellent judicial officer.  As the only candidate with substantial judicial experience and extensive legal and teaching experience, I am the best qualified choice for Kenosha County Circuit Court.  I do not simply make recommendations regarding what the outcome of cases should be, I make binding legal decisions and issuing court orders on a daily basis.  My workday consists of conducing evidentiary hearings, issuing court orders and deciding disputed and complex legal issues.  Since 2016, I have refined my judicial skill set and I am prepared to take on the full caseload of a circuit court judge.  I do not need to learn a new set of skills for this role and I am the only candidate that can assure voters that I am prepared to hit the ground running. As a commissioner, I have a patient yet firm judicial temperament.  I make difficult decisions in contentious cases and I have learned to maintain decorum in court and to make sure emotions do not derail the proceedings. I do not allow outside sources or bias to influence the outcomes of cases.  As the only candidate who is not accepting endorsements from partisan politicians, I can assure our residents that I will not permit political influence or partisan politics to detract from the important work I will do as a judge.    Prior to my commissioner appointment by the judges, I had been an attorney since 1998 and have handled every type of law that judges handle, including criminal (prosecution and defense), civil, family, guardianships, probate, and juvenile.  I also served Kenosha as a guardian ad litem and was a full-time professor of legal studies for a number of years as well as a part-time law professor for 5 years.  I have successfully handled multi-million dollar lawsuits and settlements as well as much smaller disputes involving a few hundred dollars.  I have successfully handled some of the most violent and troubling felonies and misdemeanors as well as routine traffic and simple ordinance violations.  I have also handled cases that were easily resolved and cases that results in multi-day jury or court trials.  All of my legal experiences, big and small, combined with my judicial experience make me the best choice for judge in Kenosha County.

2.) What is the key characteristic a circuit court judge should possess?

Cunningham — Circuit court judges should be intelligent, firm, fair, compassionate, and empathetic. They should be impartial, and not persuaded by personal beliefs or public pressure. Judges should have experience working with people from diverse backgrounds and working in various areas of the law. It is also important for circuit court judges to have knowledge of the community at large and how issues, such as mental illness, poverty, implicit bias and systemic racism affect, not just the litigants who appear in court, but also the effectiveness of the court system.

Gabriele — There are many qualities that are important for a circuit court judge. A judge needs extensive and practical courtroom experience to make the serious and complicated decisions that court proceedings require. Great lawyers make great judges. A judge needs the ability to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions without bowing to public pressure, politics, or prejudice. It is less important to have some experience in all areas of law but rather it is more important is preparedness, interest in the cases, & strong desire to serve justice. Recognizing and having experience in
seeking the truth and justice as a public servant rather than advocating for the best result for a client are also critical qualities. A judge also needs to have an open mind to solutions to improving our judicial system and to protecting our community. Having a strong and demonstrated commitment to the Kenosha community is also critical.

Pfeuffer — A circuit court judge must have awareness that every case that comes in front of them is important to the parties who are involved in the case.  Whether it is a homicide that receives national attention and media coverage or a petty theft case involving a few hundred dollars, an excellent judge handling criminal cases will ensure that everyone involved is treated fairly and equally.  Similarly, an excellent judge handling civil cases, family and paternity cases, and any other type of case will ensure that every party is given the equal respect and fair treatment regardless of the size of the dispute. Whenever I am asked what is the most important or serious case I have handled as a member of the judicial branch, I respond that it was my last case.  It might have been just another day at work for me, but to the parties who came into my courtroom, this may have been the biggest moment of their life.  Judges and Commissioners handle far more “average” or “small” cases than “serious” or “large” cases.  A candidate without awareness of the importance of all cases will not be equipped to handle the realities of the judiciary. I am aware that every case on my docket, in my courtroom, or on my “review” list is the most important case to the parties involved in that case.  As a judge I will continue to remain aware that every case may have a huge impact on someone’s life and I will act accordingly. 

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