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Burnett County Sentinel - "Gableman Fights the Good Fight"

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Location: Grantsburg, WI

Burnett County Sentinel - "Gableman Fights the Good Fight"

"I've spoken with thousands of people and have traveled thousands of miles," Judge Michael Gableman said Friday, four days before electors across the state chose a new State Supreme Court Justice.

Judge Gableman, Burnett County's Circuit Court Judge, was battling incumbent Louis Butler for a seat on Wisconsin's Supreme Court.

Speaking to groups from five to 500, Judge Gableman has spoken in a variety of settings.

"I remember one fish fry in Milwaukee in particular," he recalled. "I was standing in line greeting and talking with people. Four thousand people went through that line before the night was over."

"I've been impressed with how kind, welcoming and gracious people, even if they are not supporting me, have been," he added.

While he got to hear a variety of themes on the campaign trail, it seemed to all boil down to some key issues.

"I have found that people have two basic expectations of judges," Judge Gableman explained.

"They expect their judges not to legislate from the bench - that they should apply the law, not make it," he said. "They also want judges to scrupulously honor the rights of the defendant but also remember the rights of the victim."

The judge launched his campaign last October.

Last Friday was a typical day for the Gableman campaign in the week before the election.

"We stayed Thursday night in Plover so that's where we started. We had meetings in Marshfield this morning and now we're in Stevens Point where we've had radio and press interviews," he explained. "After lunch we'll head to Madison for a debate with my opponent."

Interestingly, Judge Gableman said Butler has refused several requests to debate anywhere north of Madison and Milwaukee.

"We have accepted every invitation to debate," the judge pointed out.

Not that it has been easy.

On one occasion, Judge Gableman was in court at the Government Center in Siren all day, walked across the street to the airport and took a plane to a debate site.

The debates have just been one facet of the state-wide campaign Judge Gableman took on.

"It's given me an opportunity to take my message to the people of this state," he said.

And his campaign took full advantage of moving around the state with the judge sharing his message.

"We made productive use of our time," he said. "We didn't just go from point A to point B, we'd make use of the trip and schedule in as much as we could on the way and on the way back. That's why we've been so successful."

He even talked with people on the elevator as he was going from one meeting to another.

"One of the blessings of this campaign is that I've been able to meet a lot of really good citizens who are active in their communities, people I never would have met if not for this race," he continued. "I can see myself socializing with these people after this is over."

There's a reason he's campaigning so hard.

"No matter how this turns out, I don't want to look back and say 'What if?'" Judge Gableman said. "So I'm trying to be efficient as I can so win or lose, I'll know I did everything I could."

Besides all the good which came from the campaign, more than a little mud was flung.

According to Judge Gableman, the largest single spender in the campaign, through last Friday, has been the Greater Wisconsin Committee.

"They have spent every nickel on negative ads against me," he said.

But that doesn't mean Butler had anything to do with it.

"By law, neither candidate can control third parties or their actions," the judge affirmed. "I knew there'd be ads from third parties - but I had no idea of the details of the ads."

"The thing about those third party people, they don't have to be accountable to the truth or to the voters," Judge Gableman said.

At least two good examples of that unaccountability took place in the week prior to Tuesday's election.

A group called One Wisconsin Now (OWN) released a press release a week ago Tuesday pointing out the time it takes for the disposition of felony cases in Burnett County has increased during Judge Gableman's watch.

The press release went on and on about the average number of days a felony case takes in other counties, how that disposition time has increased in this county and how the judge has been taking vacation time to campaign while this is happening.

The press release mentioned nothing of how the district attorney's office is short-staffed by 1.5 prosecutors and what effect that fact may have on the disposition of felony cases.

An even more alarming example is the release which came last Thursday stating the district attorney was seeking a special prosecutor for an open records complaint against Judge Gableman.

"I honestly don't know if the complaint is on the level or not," district attorney Kenneth Kutz revealed Thursday. The same group, OWN, filed an open records law complaint with Kutz' office.

"They are seeking a writ of mandamus," Kutz explained. The writ would compel the judge to release emails which, according to the complaint, he has refused repeatedly to release from his state account.

According to the request for action from OWN, the judge did release 45 emails but withheld eight which he deemed personal.

Because of the obvious conflict of interest between the Burnett County DA investigating the Burnett County judge, Kutz requested a special prosecutor handle the case.

Kutz said he has contacted DAs in Barron, Bayfield, Douglas, Eau Claire, St. Croix and Sawyer counties to see if any would serve as special prosecutor. "About two-thirds have said no," Kutz said.

If all local attempts fail, Kutz will have to turn to the state's attorney general J.B. Van Hollen, who in turn would appoint a prosecutor.

"The special prosecutor will have to determine if the complaint has any merit," Kutz remarked.

"I figured this had something to do with the election and I told them that no way was this going to be resolved before Tuesday, but they insisted they wanted to pursue it," Kutz concluded.

These two examples, especially the week before the election, didn't really surprise the judge.

"I just tried to put it out of my mind because there's nothing I could do about it," Judge Gableman pointed out.

But he wasn't willing to stoop to that level.

"I made it clear to my campaign people that we would stress the positives of my stand on the issues," he declared. "And the proof is in the pudding as far as the support I've been getting."

Groups from across the state had endorsed Judge Gableman, from county sheriff's, police chiefs and district attorneys.

"That support was made possible by speaking directly to these groups," the judge commented.

All the campaigning, good and bad, came to a halt when the polls closed Tuesday night and the candidates waited for word on the outcome.

With polls closed for a couple of hours, WTMJ was already projecting Louis Butler as the winner for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice.

With Butler the projected winner, what's next for Judge Gableman?

"If it worked out that I am privileged enough to be the circuit court judge for Burnett County for 30 years, I will die a happy man," the judge said.

"This job has been the greatest job I've ever had and it's been an enormous privilege to serve the people of this county," he concluded.

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