The slate of contenders for a spot on the Columbia County judicial bench has not been cemented as the deadline to apply nears, but four potential candidates made themselves known when they sought appointment to the Circuit Court Branch 3 seat earlier this year.
Sauk County Assistant Corporation Counsel and former Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Brenda Yaskal has submitted her nomination papers, including 256 signatures of support. She joins former Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Clifford Burdon, who has collected 244 signatures after announcing he would run in September.
They were among four people who sought appointment to the seat after Judge Alan White announced April 20 that he would retire in September.
No nomination papers have been filed yet by the other two people who sought the appointment, Columbia County Assistant Corporation Counsel Krista Miller and Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Troy Cross. However, Cross said Tuesday he plans to have his forms in by the end of the week.
The deadline for candidacy forms is Jan. 2. The election for the seat is April 3. If there are three or more candidates, a primary will be held in February.
Although the four attorneys applied for the seat, Gov. Scott Walker’s office announced in September he would not appoint a replacement. However, Walker could still appoint someone prior to the election.
Walker’s office received and distributed White’s retirement letter April 20, starting a search process in which the seven-member Judicial Selection Advisory Committee reviewed applications from Miller, Burdon, Cross and Yaskal.
Emails between committee members received through an open records request show a lack of urgency given that White would not step down until September. Candidates were assigned to various committee members for reference calls and background checks. A pointed summary was offered by committee member and Mauston-based attorney William Curran of Curran, Hollenbeck & Orton, S.C. in an email to Michael Brennan of Gass Weber Mullins in Milwaukee.
Having practiced in Columbia County, Curran described Columbia County’s board as being frugal, “almost to the point of being anti-courts.” He described White as being of normal retirement age and the two remaining judges “substantially younger.”
“The DA’s office is not particularly highly regarded,” Curran wrote, without elaboration, going on to point out the courthouse construction, a two-man Bar Association Office, and a suspicion that the community “suffers from its proximity to Madison,” being a great community but with many people commuting to Madison for work.
Curran described the candidates, two from the district attorney’s office and two from corporation counsel offices, in short, highlighting Cross and Yaskal as “seriously flawed,” without further detail and Burdon as being unknown to him.
By contrast, Curran dedicates a paragraph to describing Miller’s qualifications and family history.
“Miller’s dad, John Miller, has been widely recognized as the best lawyer in Columbia County for decades,” Curran wrote. “He’s (a) highly skilled, very hard-working conservative and very smart.”
Curran went on to tell Brennan he could not explain Miller’s leaving a successful private practice to work as an assistant corporation counsel.
As of Wednesday, representatives of Walker’s office had not responded to inquiries regarding the application process.