Voiland’s focus on Madison politics tops Wolfgram’s experience in lopsided Tuesday judicial election
Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram’s 18 years of experience on the bench was not nearly enough to fend off a campaign waged by challenger Joe Voiland that focused almost exclusively on Wolfgram’s signing of the Gov. Scott Walker recall petition and injected a decidedly partisan tone into Tuesday’s non-partisan election.
Voiland, a 40-year-old lawyer and Town of Grafton resident who entered the race for Branch II judge as a virtually unknown candidate, came away from the April 2 election with a resounding 12,999 to 7,714 victory. He garnered nearly 63% of the vote, topping Wolfgram by 5,285 votes.
Just more than 34% of registered voters cast ballots Tuesday.
“I’m proud to have served the citizens of Wisconsin and Ozaukee County as a judge and district attorney. It was a privilege,” Wolfgram said Wednesday. “I wish Mr. Voiland all the success in the world. I will do whatever I can to help him with the transition.”
In a written statement, Voiland said, “I thank Judge Wolfgram for his more than 20 years of service to the people of Ozaukee County. I look forward to serving Ozaukee County fairly and impartially.”
Wolfgram, 61, a former Ozaukee County district attorney who is currently the county’s presiding judge, failed to win a majority of votes in any of the wards in his home city of Cedarburg and, in fact, topped Voiland by small margins only in Village of Thiensville Wards 3 and 4, City of Port Washington Ward 2 and the small portion of the Village of Bayside that votes in Ozaukee County.
Such a defeat of a judge who began his law career in Ozaukee County, had the respect and support of top local law enforcement officials and was named Judge of the Year in 2008 by the Wisconsin Bar Association would have been astounding had it not been for the recall petition issue, which Voiland hammered on since declaring his candidacy and prompting the unexpected race.
“A judge’s obligation is to enforce the law, not to force recalls to nullify it,” Voiland said during a pre-election interview. “A judge should not lend his name to the type of vicious behavior exhibited in the recalls, and a judge should not put himself in the position where he may have to recuse himself from the cases the people pay him to hear.”
Wolfgram countered by arguing his signing of the petition seeking to recall Walker was not an issue in a nonpartisan race that instead should hinge on the experience of the candidates.
“It was a private matter,” Wolfgram said last week of signing the recall petition, “that had absolutely nothing to do with my ability to be a fair and impartial judge, which is something I’ve demonstrated in the tens of thousands of cases I’ve handled.
“They have never pointed to a single case where I failed to apply the law as passed by the Legislature because they can’t.
“We’ve focused our campaign on my body of work. He (Voiland) doesn’t have a body of work. We don’t know what he would do as a judge.”
Wolfgram was appointed judge in 1994 by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson and elected to the bench in 1995, 2001 and 2007, each time without opposition.
In this, the only contested race if his judicial career, Wolfgram was endorsed by Ozaukee County Sheriff Maury Straub, all the police chiefs in the county and District Attorney Adam Gerol.
But Voiland had his own list of endorsements, including ones from Republican state lawmakers Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Jim Ott of Mequon, who joined the chorus of voices chastising Wolfgram for signing the recall petition.
Voiland, a lawyer since 2002, has served as counsel to the State of Wisconsin in litigation regarding the 2011 congressional and legislative redistricting and to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser during the recount of votes cast in the 2011 Supreme Court election.
He also touted his experience as a special prosecutor for the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. He said he worked on a case-by-case basis prosecuting about 50 civil cases that sought to terminate parental rights in instances of abused or neglected children.
Voiland currently specializes in financial services litigation for the law firm Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren.
Wolfgram’s term expires on July 31.
Judges serve six-year terms.