Spring Election 2021: Circuit Court judge branch 1 candidates Q&A

Kenosha County residents will be able to vote in a contested election for Circuit Court judge branch 1 on April 6.

Incumbent Larisa V. Benitez-Morgan and challenger Gerard Dougvillo will appear on the ballot.

Both candidates were sent identical questionnaires. Below are their answers as they sent them in:

Larisa V. Benitez-Morgan — Age: 58 Village, town, city where you reside: City of Kenosha. Education: B.A. Economics (College of William and Mary)M.A.Ed. (College of William and Mary)Ed.S Education Administration and Gifted Education (College of William and Mary)J.D. (The John Marshall Law School)LL.M Information Technology and Privacy Law (The John Marshall Law School)LL.M Intellectual Property Law (The John Marshall Law School). Occupation: Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Branch 1. Previous elected/appointed public office or pertinent professional/life experience: No answer given.

Gerad Dougvillo — Age: 39. Village, town, city where you reside: Lifetime resident of the city of Kenosha. Education: St. Joseph High School, Kenosha, WI; Marquette University – B.A. Criminology and Law Studies, minor in Political Science, Milwaukee WI; John Marshall Law School – Juris Doctor, Chicago IL. Occupation: Judicial Court Commissioner, Walworth County. Previous elected/appointed public office or pertinent professional/life experience: I spent over seven years as an assistant district attorney. Initially, I handled a variety of matters including prosecuting domestic abusers and drunk drivers. I quickly moved up the ranks and became Racine county’s top prosecutor for complex financial and white collar crimes while also handling serious violent crimes including home invasions, robberies and homicides. For the past five years I have served on the bench as the Walworth County Judicial Court Commissioner. In this roll I routinely and regularly preside over a variety of matters heard in our circuit courts. As a judicial official I have attended the same educational classes and trainings as all circuit court judges across the State. As a prosecutor, I gained significant trial experience, trying multiple bench and jury trials. As a judicial official, I have presided over 100’s of evidentiary hearings in criminal, civil and family court, issued over 100 written decisions and authored over 40 post-conviction decisions. I have also had multiple decisions upheld by our Court of Appeals. Since becoming a Judicial Court Commissioner in 2016, I have been annually re-certified and re-appointed, each year earning the highest possible grade as approved by the presiding judge of Walworth County, the Honorable David Reddy, and the Chief District Judge, the Honorable Jason Rossell of Kenosha County. Additionally, I have served as an educator in Kenosha, teaching undergraduate law classes at Herzing University and teaching for a number of years at Carthage College for both adult education and undergraduate students as part of their Paralegal Certificate Program.

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

Benitez-Morgan — I am the best choice for Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Branch 1 because I am the only candidate who has ever presided over jury and court trials. I am the only candidate who has presided over every type of case a circuit court judge hears. I am the only candidate who has had to make decisions that not only impact the lives of the people that come before the court but for the community at large. I am the only candidate who has had to decide whether to place someone on probation or send them to jail, prison, or corrections. I am the only candidate who has terminated someone’s parental rights. I am the only candidate who has had to tell a child they are remaining in foster care, not because the child did anything wrong, but because of the decisions and actions of their parents. I am the only candidate who has had to listen to a victim tell their story and fashion a sentence within the law as written by our legislators that will make the victim whole, provide for any rehabilitation needs, and keep the community safe. I am the only candidate who has decided who gets what including placement and visitation of the children in a contested divorce. I am the only candidate who has practiced law in Kenosha County. And lastly, I am the only candidate who when presented with the opportunity to spend their legal career as a public servant in Kenosha County chose to do so.

Dougvillo — The combination of my professional and personal history make me the best choice for the people of Kenosha County. Professionally, my entire career has been dedicated to serving the community as a whole and seeking justice for everyone involved in our legal system. Public service is more than a job to me, it is a way of life. As an assistant district attorney I served as an advocate for individual victims, grieving families, small businesses and for the betterment of the entire community. As a judicial official for the past 5 years, I have a proven history of ensuring all those who come before me are afforded equal and fair protection under the law. I have also worked to expand access and ease of use of our court system to those who are otherwise disadvantaged while still ensuring the rule of law in maintained. Personally, as a husband, father, and lifelong resident of Kenosha, whose family has called Kenosha home for over 100 years, I have a sincere investment in our community. As your judge, the citizens of Kenosha County will be assured to have someone on their bench who is truly committed to ensuring Kenosha continues to grow and prosper.

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

Benitez-Morgan — The key characteristics a circuit court judge needs are knowledge of the law and of the specific  court system you are working within. Its critical for a circuit court judge to know exactly what services are available in the community the court is serving, and also the people who work within those same agencies. It is equally as important to know and have worked with court staff and the attorneys who come before the court, and for them to have gotten to know you.Another key characteristic is respect. Respect for not only the court process, but for each person who comes before the court. For the individual who comes into court, whether it is a victim, defendant, or litigant, it is their most important day. They have a right to be heard and treated with respect. People may not always agree with my decisions, but they will always be heard.Another key characteristic is fairness. The bench is not a personal soapbox or place for individual bias. It is a place of privilege to serve the people of Kenosha. A circuit court judge must always follow the law as prescribed by the legislature with fairness and justice in mind.Finally, a circuit court judge must be dedicated; dedicated to not only the law, but to the community one serves. This is demonstrated through a proven commitment and track record of legal service as a Kenosha attorney and as a circuit court judge.I am the only candidate for Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Branch 1 that possesses all of these characteristics and that’s why I am asking the people of Kenosha to vote to retain me as circuit court judge for Branch 1 on April 6.

Dougvillo — The most effective and admired judges are those who are knowledgeable in the law, willing to consistently make the tough decisions and are adept in their ability to hear more than words being spoken in their courtroom. Before becoming a circuit court judge, a person must have a firm understanding of the various areas of the law they will be required to rule on as a judge. The bench is not a place to learn on the job. A judge must apply the law as written and not bend or twist the law in order to fill a temporary need or agenda. Often times, making the tough decision comes in the form of standing resolute in the face of public opinion or pressure. A  judge must also have tremendous respect for every litigant and counsel that enters their courtroom. A judge’s demeanor, tone and willingness to listen are critical for both the dispensation and perception of justice. No matter the outcome, if a person does not feel as though they have been heard, they will never feel justice.

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