Two face off in Rock County judge race
JANESVILLE Two Janesville attorneys are in the race to replace retiring Rock County Judge James Welker.
Barbara McCrory has been a family court commissioner in Rock County for 12 years. She has held the same role in Jefferson County since 2010. Her job is considered half time in each county.
In Jefferson County, she also handles some criminal hearings, such as initial appearances.
Jack Hoag is a defense attorney with a reputation for having a busy practice. He has tried criminal, civil and family cases and works as a private practitioner as well as an appointed public defender.
The two survived a primary field of six candidates.
Q: How does your professional experience compare to your opponent?
Hoag: "In terms of broad-based experience, there's really not a comparison."
Hoag's career as a trial attorney has prepared him for the kinds of cases he would hear as a judge, including civil trials, small claims, probate, criminal and the final matters in divorce hearings, he said. McCrory hears mostly early hearings in family or divorce cases, Hoag said.
The experience is especially important for jury trials, which are the court's most public kinds of cases, he said. McCrory does not have trial experience, and Hoag has a lot, he said.
During his career, Hoag has been reprimanded three times by the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation or its predecessor, the Board of Attorney Professional Responsibility. Instances of reprimands are public information and are available online. The office makes public and private reprimands. Details about the reprimands are only available in public cases.
Hoag in 2000 was reprimanded for failing to keep a client informed. He was privately reprimanded in 1995 and 1997, according to online documents.
The public reprimand was made after Hoag failed to notify a client that he would be withdrawing as counsel after the Court of Appeals in 1997 dismissed the case as having been filed in an untimely manner. The client learned about the dismissal from a fellow inmate who was doing legal research.
When The Gazette asked about the public reprimand, Hoag said he missed a deadline in an appeals case for a man committed as a sexual predator. The case was mistakenly categorized by Hoag's office as a criminal appeal, but it was a civil case, meaning the deadlines were different, he said.
Mistakes are not common to his practice, he said.
"There has never been any question as to my integrity or competency," Hoag said. "If there were, I wouldn't have the successful law practice that I do."
McCrory: "About two-thirds of my career has been as a court commissioner, where I have been the person who's actually seen the cases. Jack (Hoag) is a well respected trial attorney who handles a huge amount of cases in criminal, traffic and family law," McCrory said. "It boils down to what people think is best for the community."
McCrory works as a family court commissioner in Rock and Jefferson counties. In Jefferson County, she has been handling some hearings in criminal cases, she said. That has given her a different kind of experience than Hoag has, she said.
"I think one of the biggest differences between his professional career and my professional career at this point is that I'm the one that's making the orders that affect people's lives," McCrory said. "I've been doing that for 12 years.
"I am making decisions about what are the conditions going to be if you're released from jail. I'm making decisions about how much money is going to be in your household or how much time you'll get to spend with your children," she said.
McCrory said Hoag is right when he said she does not have experience with jury trials. But she knows what role the jury plays and what a judge would have to do to support that, she said.
"In a jury trial, the court's role is to make sure the evidence comes in the way it's supposed to," McCrory said. "The jury's role is to be the fact-finder. When I do my court hearings, I'm the fact-finder and the person responsible for making sure the evidence is right."
Q: How would you keep your docket moving without rushing cases?
Hoag: "First of all, you do it cooperatively with the other judges, I think," Hoag said. "I'm a believer in communicating."
If a judge sets a tone and sets expectations for attorneys, by and large cases come into the courtroom prepared to move forward, he said.
McCrory: "I do that every single day. It's very difficult. I want to make sure that people have the time that they need in order to get their case in."
It starts with being prepared and knowing what's in a case file, she said. A judge has to anticipate and identifying possible issues "so you're not scratching your head saying, 'I didn't think of that.'"
Patience with all parties also is important, McCrory said.
"I think that part of the reason I've been appointed to the job is because of my ability to be patient and take people where they're at."
Q: Under what circumstances would you not accept the terms of a plea agreement?
Hoag: "The role of a judge in a plea agreement is to determine whether in good conscience one can accept it."
The judge is entitled to information to make that decision, Hoag said. Both sides should have valid reasons for their positions.
"If, in fact, the information I would be given in my mind couldn't support the result," that would be a circumstance in which he couldn't accept a plea agreement, Hoag said.
"You have to balance that with the attorney's needs to have some predictability," Hoag said. "But the court's ultimate obligation is more important than that."
The judge is responsible for making sure a sentence protects public safety and appropriately punishes a criminal, he said.
"Lawyers do the same thing every day analyzing their case against the state's case," Hoag said.
McCrory: "First of all, you have to make sure the defendant understands what they're doing. You have to look at it and say to yourself, 'In its entirety, is this something that is going to protect the public, act as a deterrent to crime and provide punishment to the party?'"
Plea agreements are a necessary part of the system, McCrory said. Without them, the legal system would get backlogged, and things would run more slowly.
However, judges must keep in mind that they know less about the particulars of cases than the attorneys and parties involved. Judges have to speak up to understand if the agreement is appropriate and meets the public protection/punishment standards, she said.
"I think in a judicial race, the public has to be comfortable that this person is going to ask those questions, that this person is going to apply those norms and be making sure there's punishment that is protecting the public and that fits the crime."
Q: Why do you want the job?
Hoag: "I want the job because I think I can improve the administration of criminal justice in Rock County and do so by working with the other judges. I am very good at working with people, including working with kids. I am good at reading people. I think I can make a difference in their lives, and I think I can do that by being a judge. That's why I want the job."
McCrory: "The judicial system is my career. You might think I'm crazy. But I love what I do, and I have, I believe, the qualities and the skills that would make me a very good circuit court judge. I say that because I have grown into my job. I say that because I have attorneys who appreciate the work I do. I say that because every year I get good reviews from the judges I work for. At judicial conferences, people ask me, 'When are you going to be a judge?'"
ROCK COUNTY JUDGE CANDIDATES
Address: 4155 Eastridge Drive, Janesville.
Job: Attorney in Janesville since 1978
Education: Graduated from Glenbrook South High School in Illinois in 1970, Lawrence University in 1974 UW-Madison Law School in 1978.
Previous public office: None
Community service: Has served on the Salvation Army's advisory board and the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Janesvlle and was chairmen of a YMCA membership drive committee. He has been a coach in the Janesville area for youth and high school teams for more than a decade.
On Facebook: "Jack Hoag for Judge"
Address: 507 Apache Dr., Janesville.
Job: Rock County Family Court commissioner since 1999 and a court commissioner in Jefferson County since 2010.
Education: Graduated from UW-Madison in 1983 and from UW-Madison Law School in 1992
Previous public office: None
Community service: Member of the State Bar of Wisconsin Family Law Section Board, the Wisconsin Family Law Journal editorial board and the Rock County Bench Bar Committee.
On Facebook: "Barbara McCrory for Judge"