Open Milwaukee County Judicial Seat Draws Two Challengers
Wales and Yang will be on the April 4 ballot
Longtime Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge John Siefert is stepping down, providing a rare open seat on the bench. Branch 47 has drawn two challengers for the April 4 general election: attorney and Fox Point Municipal Court Judge Scott Wales and attorney Kashoua “Kristy” Yang. Both candidates spoke to the Shepherd about their background, law practices and judicial philosophy. Here are excerpts of our conversations.
Scott Wales has practiced law for 29 years, since graduating from the University of Miami School of Law. A Milwaukee native, he runs his own private practice Downtown without a secretary or paralegal. He extends his office hours to evenings and weekends to be more accessible to his clients. He has worked on more than 400 cases free of charge. Since 1992, Wales has taught at MATC’s Downtown campus, where he teaches in the paralegal division.
“I’m not campaigning and I’m not running. I’m trying to earn the responsibility of Branch 47,” Wales said. “If you think about what judges do, we have a profound responsibility to ensure that everyone in every case is treated fairly and that the law is followed.”
Wales said he was drawn to helping disadvantaged clients because he felt like an outsider himself. He was born with a rare condition, Moebius Syndrome, which paralyzed his tongue and affected his hearing and sight. Since he was “different,” he was bullied by his peers. By learning the techniques of ventriloquism, he overcame his physical challenges, which spurred him to succeed at UW-Madison and at law school.
“I said I’m going to this school to be the person who I really think I am, as opposed to how I am perceived and how I experienced certain things,” Wales said.
Wales has served as Fox Point Municipal Court judge since 2009. He begins each session with a quick explanation about how the process works, what the likely outcomes could be, and how those outcomes might impact the defendant’s life and finances. He said he frequently offers payment plans or community service to those who can’t afford to pay their fine.
“Municipal court should not be seen as a revenue generator,” Wales said.
Of his judicial philosophy, Wales said, “The philosophy of a good judge is someone who is a good listener, who has empathy and understands, really understands, the process of how judicial responsibility takes place and the substance of each case that comes before the judge,” Wales said. “People who are in front of me are only there for a limited time. This moment matters to them beyond words. And it’s my belief that if the judge doesn’t give the time of day to the people in front of them, they’re not doing their job.”
To learn more about Scott Wales, go to walesforjudge.com.
Kashoua “Kristy” Yang is a private practice attorney specializing in family law, workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability. Yang, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, has been practicing law for eight years; prior to that, she worked at Kohler Co., where she traveled internationally solving manufacturing issues. Yang volunteered for the Marquette Law School Legal Clinic and Voces de la Frontera and is a board member of and volunteers for Legal Options for Trafficked and Underserved Survivors (LOTUS). Yang, one of 11 children, grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand and moved to the U.S. when she was 6.
“My first English words were ‘Pepsi please,’” Yang said. “So going from not knowing more than ‘Pepsi please’ to going to college and going to law school and having the privilege of running for public office for judgeship, the amount of work and perseverance and persistence that required, I think that speaks volumes about my ability to understand people and my values and principles.”
Yang said she’s running for judge so that she can better achieve justice.
“In practice, it became obvious to me early on that if I went to law school to help people, then the role I need to be in is a judge, not as an advocate [attorney], because as an advocate, my authority is given by my client,” Yang said. “So even if I think it’s right or wrong, fair or unfair, I have no authority to do anything if my client doesn’t give it to me. But as a judge that’s precisely what the law requires of me, to ensure that there is fairness, that there is justice.”
Yang said her judicial philosophy combines applying the law and exercising discretion when warranted.
“My judicial philosophy is essentially that first and foremost, a judge has to apply the law, we are a country of laws and that is what gives us guidance, that is what gives us predictability and stability,” Yang said. “But judges have a tremendous amount of discretion. The reasonable exercise of that discretion doesn’t come from legal experience alone, it comes from life experience, it comes from non-legal professional experience. A judge should have compassion in exercising that discretion.”
To learn more about Kristy Yang, go to yangforjudge.org.