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Incumbent Kelley faces challenge in Maes for Branch 4

By Press Times Staff

BROWN COUNTY – A long-time incumbent on the bench for Branch 4 in Brown County Circuit Court is facing opposition April 6 for a new six-year term.

Kendall Kelley has presided over the court since 2002 when he was appointed by then Gov. Scott McCallum.

He has won his bids for reelection in 2003, 2009 and 2015.

Kelley faced opposition on the ballot once before in 2003, where he defeated Marc Hammer 25,123 to 21,280.

Challenging Kelley is Rachel Maes, assistant city attorney for the City of Green Bay.

A Green Bay Southwest High School graduate, Maes attended UW-Madison, and has spent time in the Twin Cities and Superior, Wisconsin, before returning to Green Bay.

The Press Times emailed each candidate the same questions and gave them 100 words to respond to each.

Kendall Kelley

Why should people vote for you?

It has been the honor of my lifetime to have been elected by the voters in Brown County for nearly 19 years now as circuit court judge.

I have a reputation as being fair, but firm in my courtroom.

I leave my personal political beliefs behind and make decisions based on the facts of the case in front of me and the law as it is written.

My wife and I have raised our eight wonderful children here in Brown County and we want this community to be a safe, prosperous place for them and our growing number of grandchildren.

Kendall Kelley

What are the most important qualifications for being a circuit court judge?

My experience is really the difference in this election.

Not only do I have about 19 years on the bench, but I was a Brown County assistant district attorney before that where I specialized in prosecuting dangerous sex offenders.

I was also a municipal judge in Suamico and was in private practice before that.

I’m also a U.S. Navy veteran.

I’m proud that my work as a judge was noticed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which appointed me to serve as the lone circuit court judge on the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, including a term as chairman of that commission.

What are the biggest challenges in Brown County Circuit Court?

As it has with most aspects of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant obstacles for our court system.

Ensuring that everyone who comes to my courtroom is safe by complying with COVID safety recommendations has made scheduling trials difficult and cumbersome, and has caused our daily proceedings to be more challenging.

We are making progress – both in terms of the pandemic and getting our court system caught up.

I’m working hard with court staff to make sure we are addressing the caseload backlog, and I’m optimistic that we will get caught up as soon as circumstances permit.

What should be changed in how the circuit court operates?

One of the reforms I’ve instituted is serving as co-founder and (for many years) as presiding judge for the Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court.

As a veteran myself, I was disturbed by the number of honorably discharged veterans who wound up in court after committing a crime following their military service.

Many of these veterans were struggling with combat-related mental health issues and related substance abuse problems.

The Veterans Treatment Court provides our military heroes with a second chance by connecting them with treatment options and resources that allow these veterans to again become healthy, successful citizens in our community.

Rachel Maes

Why should people vote for you?

I care about Brown County and its future.

This election presents voters with a choice between voting for the future or voting for the past.

I embrace the Brown County community and all of its growing diversity.

I am passionate about using treatment courts and establishing a treatment court addressing issues surrounding homelessness.

I will do my research and always show up for court prepared.

I will also manage my calendar to keep cases moving quickly.

Between representing state, county and city governments, I have the range in both civil and criminal experience to be a really effective judge.

Rachel Maes

What are the most important qualifications for being a circuit court judge?

Just from a knowledge base standpoint, a circuit court judge needs a breadth of experience to effectively preside over the wide variety of types of cases he or she is responsible for.

Judges should also come to court prepared.

When people are in court, the judge is making decisions that can impact the rest of their lives.

Someone could go to prison, be placed on a mental commitment, have their house torn down, or lose custody of his or her kids, among other outcomes.

Having a judge who appreciates and respects the gravity of these outcomes is essential.

What are the biggest challenges in Brown County Circuit Court?

After a year of delays caused by multiple court closures due to COVID-19, court calendars are backed up.

Victims deserve closure, and bad actors should be facing consequences in a timely manner.

Looking beyond the Brown County Circuit Court, Wisconsin courts, in general, are sending disproportionate numbers of minority defendants to prison.

Wisconsin is about 85.4 percent white and 6.4 percent Black, yet male prison inmates are 51 percent white and 43 percent Black.

The county board of supervisors declared racism a public health emergency, and these statistics are another symptom.

Criminal sentences must be thoughtful and purposeful.

What should be changed in how the circuit court operates?

I will focus on Branch 4, the subject of this election.

Branch 4 is one of the most backed-up branches, yet the court calendar often has half days and empty days.

Based on a 2017 survey of attorneys who appeared in this branch, they identified being prepared for court and providing timely rulings and hearings as the current judge’s lowest scores.

The current judge also averaged 125 substitutions per year, which is more than four times the state average and shifts work to other branches.

Parties should be able to trust that their judge can handle their case fairly.

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