All five candidates who applied to be Waupaca County’s Branch 2 judge say they plan to run for the office if not appointed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Although two of the candidates do not currently live within the county, all of them have handled numerous cases at the Waupaca County courthouse.
Vicki Clussman has been an assistant district attorney for Waupaca County for 26 years. It was her first job out of law school.
A native of Wisconsin Rapids, Clussman graduated from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., in 1985.
“When I started in the office, I handled all of the child abuse and sexual asaults,” Clussman said.
During her time as an assistant district attorney, Clussman has also prosecuted homicides, domestic abuse cases and numerous other offenses.
“I have a lot of experience in the courtroom,” Clussman said. “I also have the right temperament to be a judge. I’ve always tried to be fair to both the victims and the defendants.”
Brenda Freeman, who has worked part time as an assistant district attorney for Waupaca County since 2004, also works as probate contract guardian ad litem for Outagamie County and as an advocate for indigent clients in guardianship, protective placement and mental health cases in Outagamie and Brown counties.
A 1995 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, Freeman also has her own law office in New London.
“I built a successful solo law practice which took almost any type of case that walked through the door but focused on family law, divorce, small claims, real estate, administrative appeals, child support custody and placement disputes, guardian ad litem appointments for best interest of children in CHIPS (Children in need of protection and services), TPRs (termination of parental rights) and public defender appointments of juvenile delinquents,” Freeman said.
Freeman said her private practice has also given her experience in the areas of elder law, mental health, trust and estates, probate, power of attorney, wills, real estate, adoptions, administrative appeals and writ of certiori.
A 2001 graduate of Marquette University Law School, Edmund Jelinski started his career as an assistant district attorney in Winnebago County.
In 2003, Jelinski went into private practice.
“I think having worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney and as a general practice attorney gives me the broadest perspective of any of the candidates,” Jelinski said.
In addition to his office in Menasha, Jelinski also has an office in Waupaca.
“I prefer the Waupaca County court system to any other court system in the state, and I’ve practiced in at least 20 other counties,” Jelinski said. “They are the most efficient, reasonable group of people to deal with.”
Keith Steckbauer graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1993.
He has had a private practice in Hortonville and Dale for 17 years.
“I do more family law than anything else,” Steckbauer said. “But it’s a rare area of law that a judge would see that I haven’t been involved in.”
In addition to his legal experience, Steckbauer said his involvement with the community is one of the most important assets he can bring to the bench in Waupaca County.
Steckbauer is president of the New London School Board, a director of First State Bank in New London and on the board of directors of the ThedaCare New London hospital.
He said he is in the process of buying a house and moving to New London.
“You have a better understanding of the community as a whole when you’re involved with all strata of society,” Steckbauer said.
A 2002 graduate of Marquette University, Julie Sawyer is currently working with the public defender’s office in Marathon County. She started there in March 2013.
From 2006-10, Sawyer worked with the public defender’s office in Waupaca County.
“I respect the people that I worked with in Waupaca County,” Sawyer said.
She spent three years working at a law firm in Milwaukee after receiving her law degree.
Prior to law school, Sawyer earned a master’s degree in public administration and worked at the state capitol.
Noting that she grew up on a dairy farm and her mother was an elementary school teacher, Sawyer said she could bring life experiences, as well as legal experiences, to her role as judge.
“When people come to court to resolve problems and disputes, they need to be heard with common sense and respect,” Sawyer said. “A judge needs to apply common sense to what is presented. Hopefully, both sides walk away and feel they have been treated fairly and with integrity.”