Election 2017

Marilyn Townsend, Jill Karofsky vie for Dane County judge seat

Attorneys Marilyn Townsend and Jill Karofsky are competing for a Dane County judge seat in Tuesday’s municipal election.

Both candidates vying for a Dane County judge seat have said they will spend the two-year term serving individuals who are disadvantaged in the justice system, each insisting that their background prepares them best for the job.

Two attorneys—Marilyn Townsend and Jill Karofsky—are competing to fill the seat for Branch 12 of the Dane County Circuit Court.

Townsend spent 30 years as a union and civil rights lawyer before being elected for three terms as a municipal judge for the Village of Shorewood Hills. She says she would make sure individuals are heard, and use her position to encourage alternatives to incarceration, such as community service or drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.

“It is very important to me that everyone get a fair hearing, and it has been my experience that individuals don’t always get the same kind of consideration as those who represent the bigger interests,” Townsend said. “The way the criminal justice system has been set up, [defendants] pay for their mistakes for the rest of their life if they are found guilty of a crime and are saddled with that record. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for our community.”

Denying any risk of partiality concerns, Townsend said her intention to protect “the little guy” would manifest itself with her carefully considering the arguments presented by both sides.

“I understand the difference between being a judge and being an advocate,” she said. “I listen carefully to each side. I review the statute, review the evidence, hear the arguments and then make a decision.”

Townsend added that her five years of experience as a judge is an important difference between her and her Karofsky.

“My opponent has been a prosecutor, but we are not electing a prosecutor, we are electing a judge,” Townsend said. “I have demonstrated that I have the temperament, I have the attention to detail and I have the ability to decide against the powerful.”

Karofsky is the Director of the Office of Crime Victim Service at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and was the state’s first violence against women resource prosecutor at the Department of Justice. She is also an adjunct professor at the UW-Madison Law School.

Karofsky was unavailable for comment for this article, but said in a recent interview—hosted by the Madison City Channel and the League of Women Voters of Dane County—that her experience dealing with defendants in the criminal system provided her with valuable assets for the position.

“The thing I bring to this race is my experience,” Karofsky said. “I have handled over 10,000 of the exact same cases that this judge is going to hear. The judge we elect on Apr. 4 is going to hear criminal cases.”

Karofsky said racial disparity is a primary concern of hers and that it is something she plans to address from the bench by considering bias in setting bail, seeking alternatives to incarceration and going out into the community to learn their unique problems and solutions.

“We face some real issues in Dane County when it comes to racial disparity and access to justice, and I want to use my 25 years of experience to address those challenges,” she said. “I think that there are discrete things that judges can do to address this problem.”

Karofsky also asserted her ability to remain fair and impartial toward both plaintiffs and defendants.

“You can be protecting the rights of defendants and you can protect the rights of victims at the same time,” Karofsky said. “I bring a unique experience because of all my work with victims of crime and all my work ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair for everybody, victims and defendants, and I’ve been doing that for 25 years.” 
The general election is April 4.

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