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Winnebago County reelects judge suspended for misconduct; challenger wins seat on Milwaukee appeals court

Incumbent holds on in Oshkosh-area Circuit Court race

Judge Scott Woldt
Judge Scott Woldt. Image courtesy of the candidate’s website

A Winnebago County judge who received a rare suspension for judicial misconduct was reelected Tuesday.

Longtime Judge Scott Woldt served a seven-day unpaid suspension in 2021 after the Wisconsin Supreme Court found him guilty of judicial misconduct in six separate incidents. According to unofficial election results from Winnebago County, he defeated challenger LaKeisha Haase by about 1,400 votes, or about 3 percent of the 45,640 votes cast in the race.

In 2014, Woldt referred to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted by an 18-year-old as a “so-called victim” during the sentencing hearing for her abuser, according to the court’s disciplinary finding against him.

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In 2015, during a different sentencing hearing, he pulled out a handgun in court in an action that some justices who voted to suspend him found to be threatening toward the defendant. Other incidents of judicial misconduct included showing his gun to a touring school group and saying in court that he was “sick and tired” of domestic abuse victims who recanted or disputed charges brought against abusers.

It was the third reelection for Woldt, who was first appointed to the bench in 2004. He defeated Haase, a 2020 judicial appointee of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who previously lost her Winnebago County election bid in 2021. Haase was the first Black woman to serve as a Winnebago County judge.

Winnebago County has been closely divided in recent elections. In Tuesday’s Supreme Court election, liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz won 54 percent of the vote there, only slightly below her statewide margin.

Woldt was supported by the local Republican Party while Haase received the Democratic Party’s endorsement.

In an email to the Oshkosh Northwestern last month, Woldt said he had “accepted responsibility for (his) actions” that caused him to be suspended.

Liberal challenger wins Milwaukee Appeals Court seat

A liberal challenger handily defeated a longtime member of Milwaukee’s Court of Appeals in Tuesday’s vote. Labor attorney Sara Geenen had nearly 69 percent of the vote to incumbent Judge Bill Brash’s 31 percent.

Geenen had the endorsements of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party, a number of labor unions and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. She has not served as a judge before and pitched her candidacy as bringing a “fresh perspective” to the bench.

Brash was appointed to the court by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2015. He succeeded conservative judge Rebecca Bradley, whom Walker appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and his campaign staff this year was staffed and supported by Wisconsin Republicans. However, Brash was also endorsed this year by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, who was supported by Democrats, as well as by Democratic former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

The Court of Appeals hears cases that are appealed from the Circuit Court level. The state has 16 appeals court judges in four districts in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Wausau and Madison. Decisions that are further appealed may then be taken up by the state Supreme Court.