021518-star-news-judge

Juneau County District Attorney Ken Hamm discusses the workload at his office in the Juneau County Justice Center.

JAKE EKDAHL/Star-Times

Since Juneau County Judge John Roemer resigned in August, the justice center has had to adapt. They have made due with one judge while handling the workload of two.

Even without the resignation, 2017 was an unusually busy year for the justice center. “Our total caseload was up about 20 percent from 2016,” Juneau County District Attorney Ken Hamm said.

The everyday responsibilities of the Juneau County Justice Center have been manageable in Roemer’s absence Hamm said. But multi-day trials have been a challenge.

Retired Sauk and Marquette County Judges have had to come in to preside over cases, but not for longer trials.

“The multi-day trials, the reserve judges aren’t going to do those just because there’s appellate issues,” Hamm said. “The retired judges aren’t going to do that and the state doesn’t want to pay them to do that.”

Many of those cases are currently “sitting there waiting to get a new judge in,” Hamm said. Juneau County voters will elect a new judge April 3. The candidates are former Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth and former Juneau County Assistant District Attorney Stacy Smith.

Hamm hopes to see those cases taken care of soon. “There’s an old saying, ‘justice delayed isn’t justice served,’” Hamm said.

When it comes particularly sensitive cases, such as sexual assaults, judges in the sixth judicial district have often been appointed.

“Lower to mid level felony stuff have just kind of been languishing over there,” Hamm said. “That’s unfortunate.”

Hamm anticipates the cases may take a few months to get through for the new judge.

With both candidates having experience within the Juneau County Justice Center, Hamm is pleased they “both have a good footing in criminal law.”

Hamm is also pleased both candidates are in favor of establishing a drug treatment court for the county.

Judge Roemer’s resignation came as a surprise to many. “I didn’t have any idea,” Hamm said.

Although the day-to-day business of the justice center has been handled in Roemer’s absence, Hamm says he understands trial delays could be frustrating for families. He says he does not believe there is currently anyone being held in the Juneau County Jail that is only awaiting a trial.

Victim Witness Coordinator Michele Mehne said she is excited to have two judges in Juneau County again.

Hamm says generally speaking, the Justice Center is “running pretty efficiently,” and the judges from other counties have been “a great help.”

The election for Juneau County Judge is scheduled for April 3.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl