City News

Dane County Circuit Court election: Here's where the candidates stand on the issues

Image By: Jon Yoon and Jon Yoon

On April 3, voters around the state will decide not just who will sit on the state Supreme Court but also who will win a variety of local city and county elections. Here in Dane County, those local races include positions for Dane County Supervisor and Dane County Circuit Judge.

Of the three elections for circuit judge, only the race for Branch 1 is contested, as Judge Marilyn Townsend faces attorney Susan Crawford. With both candidates touting strong endorsements and splitting hairs on crucial issues, it’s difficult to pinpoint a favorite heading into the election.

Racial Disparities

One of the main issues that both candidates have addressed are racial disparities in Dane County. Ever since the Race to Equity report published in 2013, which found disparities between black and white residents along 40 “life-status measures,” many elected officials have — at least publicly — vocalized support in closing the gaps.

Townsend, who currently serves as a municipal judge and has overseen 3000 cases, has touted her support for delaying sentences in order to allow defendants to seek medical treatment or addiction services if necessary. She also supports restorative justice programs and innovative bail reforms.

Susan Crawford, a partner at the Madison law firm Pines Bach, shares similar policy stances as Townsend, noting that judges should have access to data tracking information regarding sentencing disparities combined with implicit bias training. Crawford spent years working under Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration both as an executive assistant at the Department of Corrections and as Doyle’s chief legal counsel.

Mental Health

Crawford also supports recidivism opportunities for individuals suffering from mental illnesses, adding in a questionnaire for Dane County’s chapter of Our Wisconsin Revolution that she would consider all sentencing alternatives for individuals who don’t qualify for diversion programs.

She would use incarceration only “when necessary to protect the public and/or the victim from harm.”

According to campaign manager Melissa Mulliken, Townsend is spearheading efforts to create a mental health treatment court.

“Mental Health Courts, like other diversion courts, offer treatment and support that get at the root causes of crime and reduce recidivism,” wrote Townsend in the same questionnaire.

Donations and Recusal

Although judges address areas of the judicial process they seek to improve, their role remains impartial to politics and political affiliation. This has led both candidates to stake out their belief in how to handle court cases regarding donors and contributors.

Townsend said she believes there is currently too much money flowing into judicial races and has combated that stance by limiting the maximum donation to $500 rather than the state-allowed $6000 total.

“She is the only candidate in the race who has directed her campaign to voluntary limit the amount of contributions,” said campaign director Melissa Mulliken.

Both Townsend and Crawford have supported a petition written by 54 retired judges that was sent to and eventually rejected by the state Supreme Court that would have forced a judge to recuse themself from a case where a party associated with the case made a donation of $1000 or more.

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