Wausau Pilot & Review asked all candidates in local, contested races to answer a series of questions, some of which were submitted by readers. Two candidates are on the ballot for Marathon County Circuit Judge, to replace Judge Greg Huber, who is retiring. The election is April 5.

Each candidate was asked a set of identical answers, some of which came from attorneys, judges and readers. Read the candidates’ unedited answers below:

Ricky Cveykus

Ricky Cveykus

Education: BS: UW-Madison 05, JD UW-Madison 08, Lecturer UW-Madison Since 2018

Current occupation and area of expertise:  

Partner at Cveykus Law Office, focusing on Family Law and Criminal Law.  Also, a Lecturer at UW-Madison Teaching Constitutional Law, 1st Amendment Law, Criminal Law and Mock Trial. 

As a prospective judge, what do you consider your greatest strengths?

 (1) I am steady, I am dedicated to treating everyone that walks into the Courtroom with dignity and respect, (2) I am studied, I have experience in these courtrooms actually trying cases (3) I promise to keep politics out of the courtroom.

What do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice, if any?  

The largest issue we currently have is delay. Roughly 70% of a judge’s current calendar is criminal law cases. In addition, we have roughly 200 people in the Marathon County Jail right now. Based on my last conversation with our Deputy Sheriff Chad Billlib, of those 200, roughly 75% are presentencing, meaning that we are paying to hold them there as a county, but they have not yet been found guilty of anything.  For several of those people, we are not talking about waiting 2 weeks or 2 months, we are talking about in several cases 1,2 and 3 years!  Clearly if they are not guilty this is unsustainable but if they are guilty, we cannot make victims wait years for resolution. We need to take action to address the backlog and move justice more swiftly in Marathon County and having a judge with experience in these cases from day one is central to achieving that goal.    

What have been the most effective methods for improving court procedures and efficiency? What other methods would you suggest? 

One large aid has been establishing a 6th branch here in Marathon County which occurred last year. Another aid has been having staffing to assign two DA’s to each courtroom so that scheduling is quicker for all parties. We need to continue that, and also move to take action by scheduling regular reviews and demanding answers when cases languish without sufficient cause or reason.

Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at large? Why or why not? If not, what can we do to change this? 

Juries in our county do often skew a little older, however I believe they all take their oath seriously and want to dispense fair justice.   As one that has tried Jury Trials here in Marathon County, I can only thank those people that have taken time out of their days and their lives to make the process work for everyone. Our system is not perfect, and I will always look for ways to improve it, but I have seen the dedication our jurors have given in my cases and I thank them for that.  

To what extent have you practiced in the area of criminal law? Family law? Complex civil legislation?  

I have worked, practiced, and taught criminal law for my entire career. I have also been involved with family law through my firm for the same amount of time. These are the two most common areas of law that a judge will need to deal with, and I am thankful to have extensive experience in both.   

What do you believe are the causes of the high rates of minority incarceration?  

Bond is an issue, but the truth is I know every single one of the Judges on the bench here in Marathon County and they are good people. Every single one of them; Judge Huber, Judge Moran, Judge Corbett, Judge Strasser, Judge O’Neill, Judge Jacobson, wake up in the morning trying to find a way to protect the people of Marathon County and the rights of those in the Courtroom. None of them wake up with ill intent or ill will.

One thing we need to do is be transparent in the numbers of who is incarcerated here in Marathon County and why, and to bring those numbers to light to see if there is a problem and what is causing it, I think transparency is central to identifying what are issues are, what is causing them, and what we can do to address them.      

What factors are considered in granting and setting bail amounts for defendants? What do you believe is the primary consideration? 

The primary consideration by statute we are supposed to consider when setting bail is how likely is that person to appear again for Court. If they are a legitimate flight risk we should set a high bail amount, if they are not a flight risk the bail should be lower. Judges are then supposed to consider protection of the community when setting the non-monetary conditions of bail. 

The Legislature is currently looking at amending the bail statute to allow a judge to consider both how likely a person is to reappear in Court, and the danger to the community when setting the cash portion of bond, that would seem to be a logical move. Judges need to focus on both the rights of the defendant and the protection of our community.

If we can shorten the amount of time people wait to resolve their cases, we can more quickly sort out our cases to make sure the jail is being used for those that are convicted of crimes rather than those that are simply accused.      

What criteria would you use for deciding whether to impose or affirm sentences outside of standard ranges?  

For the most part, (aside from OWI’s and certain other very serious offenses) we do not have standard ranges for sentencing.  Judges must address three things when sentencing according to case law, (1) The gravity of the offense, (2) The character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant, and (3) The need to protect the community. Those will be the issues I address every time I pronounce a sentence.   

What injustices have you witnessed in or outside the courtroom and what was your response to those events?  

Throughout my career I have worked tirelessly to make sure that peoples Constitutional Rights are protected, I will continue to do so as Judge. I have dedicated my life to making sure justice is correctly and equally served and I am proud of that. We simply cannot allow a two-tiered justice system to exist in our county and we must ensure that each individual is treated equally under the law.

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your legal career? In your personal life?

The greatest accomplishment of my legal career thus far was when my colleagues in law thought enough of the work I had done to ask me to come back to UW and become an instructor there.  The ability to teach and influence the next generation of lawyers in our State is something I truly cherish.  As to my personal life, I am a new father with a one-year-old at home. Anything and everything I do that lets me see his smile makes me feel like I have lived a good day.

Please describe a situation in which you took a controversial position that angered or offended people and explain how you handled it.  

Earlier this year I discovered that the jail had been keeping inmates on some occasions one day longer than the case law allowed.   I spent the time contacting the Sheriff’s Department, the jail staff, Marathon County Corporation Counsel, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Public Defender to make sure that my reading was correct and to discover a way to address it.   By bringing people together we were able to discover that there did need to be a change and we all worked together to fix it.  Pulling people together on an issue, not forcing them apart, has always been my preferred way to address problems. 

Violent crime, particularly youth violence, is perceived to be at a crisis level by many experts today. What, if any, do you believe is the appropriate role for the judiciary in addressing this perceived crisis?  

It is important to keep a strong but fair response to any violence in society. Judges must be cognizant that children are not just smaller adults, that their minds are not yet fully developed and that they will often not have the impulse control that we can expect of a full adult. 

That said, while lapses in judgment are somewhat understandable, violence is never acceptable, and we must take action to keep other youths in the community safe from bullying and violence from their peers.  Currently the State has implemented a Community Conference Program that both holds the offender responsible but also gives a say in their sentencing to the victims, with extra care placed on community service and making the offender take action to repair the community they live in.  This program has been the most successful with youthful offenders and it is one I would be proud to remain involved in.    

What is your vision for the future of our judicial system: What changes would you advocate and why?  

The largest issue we must address are delays to justice for everyone as said above.   However, there are also other issues. For instance, our Truancy Court tries to address the issue of students not being in school by removing them from more school to come to court and see a judge. These hearings have been cancelled since Covid hit, but when we restart the system, having one where the Judge goes to the school or takes actions to keep those kids in class as much as possible would seem to be a wiser way to run the program.  

Why should voters support you rather than your opponent?

I do not have any interest in attacking my opponent, I think he is an honest man who wants to make a difference in our community.  The one area that speaks the most about our difference is our experience. I have been in Marathon County courtrooms, I have tried cases, and I will uphold the Oath of my office, not only for the people of Marathon County, but for my family as well.  My family has called Marathon County home for 5 generations, my parents live here, my siblings live here, my nieces and nephews go to school here, and I am raising my family here. I am a proud resident and there is no place I would rather call home.  

What else would you like voters to know about you?  

I have been involved throughout my life in giving back to my community that helped shape my life. From sponsoring little league teams, to school soccer teams, to being Marathon County Bar President, Marathon County Bar Vice President, Marathon County Defense Bar President, UW-ALUMNI President, UW Alumni Board Member, involvement with Wills for Veterans and Wills for Heroes, offering my time to coach at The DCE and the Wausau School District, to being on the Board of Directors for Marathon Counseling and Residential Services.  I have spent my life bringing people together to help my community and I hope to continue to do so in my next job and to earn your vote on April 5th for Marathon County Branch 2. 

William Harris

William Harris

Education: Bachelor of Arts Degree in Government & World Affairs and a minor in Law & Justice from the University of Tampa – Honors Program and Cum Laude distinction;  Oxford University, Juris Doctor Degree International Law, Master’s in Law Degree International Legal Studies with a specialization in International Human Rights Law, Master’s in Law Degree Law & Government with a specialization in Constitutional & Civil Rights Law; Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law program.

Current occupation and area of expertise:

I currently work as a staff attorney for a non-profit law firm in Wausau dedicated to providing equal access to justice for residents of Northern Wisconsin as well as the state’s 11 federally recognized Indian tribes in the civil unit. My area of expertise is public interest law. 

As a prospective judge, what do you consider your greatest strengths?

I have fought to eliminate barriers, injustices, and bring awareness to the disparities that keep some in our community plagued by poverty in the assembly room and in the courtroom. I am known to be honest, fair, ethical, and reliable in the courtroom.

What do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice, if any?

I believe the greatest obstacles to justice include the unaffordable costs associated with pursuing or defending a legal matter; lack of education and awareness of court procedures, legal services, and legal rights; lack access to internet, lack of legal resources in the community, lack of funding for legal aid/non-profit law firms, and no automatic right to counsel for the indigent in civil matters like divorce, child custody/placement, injunctions, housing, and other small claims or debt collection actions. Individuals in our system that are indigent often receive unfavorable outcomes due to economic disparities. Additionally, a large case backlog can create obstacles to justice where individuals may sit in jail for long periods when they may be ultimately adjudicated as not guilty or sit in jail for periods longer than they would have been sentenced to if they had been found guilty.

What have been the most effective methods for improving court procedures and efficiency? What other methods would you suggest?

I think the most effective methods for improving court procedures and efficiency is exercising good case management, the use of mediation and dispute resolution tools, using visiting judges, and appropriate delegation of tasks to court staff and good utilization of court resources. 

Other methods that might improve court procedures and efficiency would be maintaining the option for video conference for status and scheduling conferences, most civil matters, and nonessential court proceedings. Another method would be direct public education efforts such as public tours of the courthouse, courthouse-based learning centers and law library, having judges lead educational lectures and programs for the public, more accessibility to free legal resources and online programs. Lastly, justice alternatives and/or specialized court systems like mental health court, drug court, and juvenile court. 

Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at large? Why or why not? If not, what can we do to change this? 

Wisconsin law requires that all qualified persons have an equal opportunity to be randomly summoned for jury service. Wisconsin law states that the office of the Director of State Courts may pull from multiple source lists for jury pools, including those registered to vote, those that pay income tax to the Department of Revenue, child support payers and payees, those receiving unemployment compensation, and those issued licenses and approvals from the Department of Natural Resources. I think pulling from multiple source lists is important in being as inclusive as possible of people from all walks of life. We can use data to measure and analyze our current methods to ensure we are successful in our aims of creating and maintaining inclusive jury pools.

To what extent have you practiced in the area of criminal law? Family Law? Complex civil litigation? 

I have been barred since 2011. I started out at a criminal defense and family law firm but have spent most of my career in the private sector as a civil and public interest law attorney. Currently I work as a staff attorney for a non-profit law firm in downtown Wausau where I represent victims of domestic and child abuse, sexual assault in family law that includes divorce and child custody/placement cases and in injunction cases, low-income clients facing homelessness in housing cases, as well as clients in unemployment appeals or facing employment discrimination, and individuals in cases against predatory lenders and those engaged in unfair trade practices in the 33 Northern Counties in Wisconsin. I have also represented clients in the tribal courts and tribal members across the state of Wisconsin and am barred in 5 federally recognized Indian tribes. I am also admitted to practice in both the Eastern and Western District Courts in Wisconsin.

What do you believe are the causes of the high rates of minority incarceration?

Minorities and specifically blacks are jailed in Wisconsin at a disproportionately high rate. Wisconsin imprisons 1 in every 36 Black adults according to the Sentencing Project using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics to calculate states’ rates of imprisoning white residents and people of color. Black people comprise 42 percent of the Wisconsin prison population, but just 6 percent of the state’s population. Black Americans face disproportionate arrest rates and factors that can lead to longer prison terms — including a greater likelihood of being charged as a habitual offender and more time spent in jail awaiting trial. Some factors that create these disparities are biases conscious or unconscious, the fact that black people are arrested more often for low level drug offenses contributes to this number. Black Wisconsinites are 4.3 times more likely to be convicted for possession of marijuana according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union. There may be a number of factors at play in regard to why these disparities exist and different reasons in different areas of the state. Given that the population is very small in some counties, in looking at disparities in some areas the number may be statistically insignificant or inconclusive, while in other areas the result of institutional biases. Although such disparities exist to some extent statistically in Marathon County, some law enforcement agencies such as the Wausau Police Department have leadership and a police department that have worked to incorporate responsive policies and have embraced the 8 can’t wait campaign and are proactive in its aims to eliminate such disparities and we need to just continue to strive in Marathon County to create policies and practices that will minimize and eradicate such disparities in our criminal justice system and as Judges ensure fair and impartial outcomes. 

What factors are considered in granting and setting bail amounts for defendants? 

Under Wisconsin law, if bail is imposed, it shall be only in the amount found necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant. The amount of bail can either be cash (money posted to get out of jail) or a signature bond (signing a bail firm promising to pay to get out of jail). Conditions of release, other than monetary conditions, may be imposed for the purpose of protecting members of the community from serious bodily harm or preventing intimidation of witnesses. Proper considerations in determining whether to release the defendant without bail, fixing a reasonable amount of bail or imposing other reasonable conditions of release are: the ability of the arrested person to give bail, the nature, number and gravity of the offenses and the potential penalty the defendant faces, whether the alleged acts were violent in nature, the defendant’s prior record of criminal convictions and delinquency adjudications, if any, the character, health, residence and reputation of the defendant, the character and strength of the evidence which has been presented to the judge, whether the defendant is currently on probation, extended supervision or parole, whether the defendant is already on bail or subject to other release conditions in other pending cases, whether the defendant has been bound over for trial after a preliminary examination, whether the defendant has in the past forfeited bail or violated a condition of release or was a fugitive from justice at the time of arrest, and the policy against unnecessary detention of the defendant’s pending trial. 

The primary considerations are whether the amount assures the defendant’s appearance, whether the community will be safe and protected from harm or intimidation, and whether the person has the ability to post cash for bail and the amount set does not unfairly discriminate against individuals who are economically disadvantaged.

What criteria would you use for deciding whether to impose or affirm sentences outside of the standard ranges? 

The punishment should fit the crime. A judge should impose sentences that adequately and proportionally respond to the seriousness of the offense. In doing so, we ensure fairness and promote respect for the law, create just outcomes, keep our community safe, deter further criminal conduct, and allow for the possibility of rehabilitation.  Sentencing standards take into account the type and particular characteristics of the offense, providing higher sentences for more serious offenses and lower sentences for more minor offenses and look at other such pertinent factors.

 Sentencing standards help guide Judges in seeking sentences that are fair and impartial. To impose or affirm sentences outside of the sentencing standards, the criteria I would use and the factors that would generally have to be present are in looking at whether such deviation is required in order to protect the public; whether it is warranted given the gravity of the offense; whether there is a strong need for greater rehabilitative efforts; whether there are mitigating or aggravating factors under Wisconsin Law; or if following such standards in a particular case looking at the totality of the circumstances would result in a miscarriage of justice. 

What injustices have you witnessed in or outside the courtroom and what was your response to those events?

When I was about 10 years old, my friends that I have known since we were toddlers, lost their mother who was brutally murdered in a domestic violence incident by her husband. My mother lost her best friend who was her maid of honor at her wedding, my sister lost her godmother, I lost, and the world lost one of the most sweet, compassionate, loving, and funny people on this planet. She was irreplaceable. My friend grew up not having her mother there with her at all the important events in her life like prom, graduation, and a lifetime of other important moments. However, adding to the agony of her loss was the injustice that followed when the defense was allowed to malign her in front of her grieving family and friends as having drove her husband to murder her and deserving of it because they claimed she nagged too much. And the first trial was a hung jury that bought into blaming the victim. The family would have to go through this ordeal again in order to get justice. Now I would like to hope we have come a long way since then as a society, but domestic violence still exists and there are people that still unfortunately refuse to acknowledge it. My response was to be a trauma-informed advocate for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse in divorces and in obtaining domestic abuse and child abuse injunctions and I do monthly outreach at The Women’s Community, so that hopefully, just maybe the work that I do prevents another family from losing their loved one to another senseless act of domestic violence. 

The greatest accomplishment in my legal career was securing a position where I could find daily personal satisfaction in the work that I do, which helps to make a positive impact on the lives of people every day. In my personal life, my greatest accomplishment was earning 2 Master’s in Law Degrees.  

Please describe a situation in which you took a controversial position that angered or offended people and explain how you handled it. 

I led in bringing forth the Community for All Resolution for passage by the Marathon County Board. The Community for All Resolution aimed to celebrate our rich Multicultural heritage and people, acknowledge, and meet the challenges that currently exist in communities with minorities and vulnerable populations, and commit to being a more inclusive and welcoming community as we move forward together. Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation was spread about the resolution and it caused people to be afraid and untrustful of what was to be a positive statement about the character of our community and its future. I handled it by reaching out and talking to people, listening to different viewpoints, providing information and education, and advocating for the resolution’s passage. Although I realize it became controversial, I have only ever wanted for Marathon County to succeed and to move forward together. I believe declaring Marathon County a Community for All was the right decision for our community and is the right decision for our future. 

Violent Crime, particularly youth violence, is perceived to be at a crisis level by many experts today. What, if any, do you believe is the appropriate role for the judiciary in addressing this perceived crisis? 

According to a CDC Report, 1 in every 5 high school students is being bullied and homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for young people aged 10-24 years old. It is devastating whenever we hear about violent crime among our youth. At such young ages, these are their formative years where our children can go down a path of opportunity or a path of destruction. There are so many pressures, fears, and uncertainties that our youth face that we never were exposed to. It is incumbent on us to do all that we can to ensure our young people’s success because they are our future. Judges can address this issue both in and outside of the courtroom. Marathon County has a Youth Justice Program. It is a program to support youth through rehabilitative efforts and deter them from future delinquent behaviors. The Court has a role to play in ordering and implementing recommendations from supervision and treatment services and creating consequences for violations as needed. I think the Court should be supportive and collaborative in these types of programs and encourage Marathon County to continue to be proactive in its efforts to reduce youth violence. I would like to see Marathon County expand and provide more resources to these programs to include mentorship, apprenticeship, and restorative justice efforts. When I was a kid I met a Juvenile Court judge who mentored kids outside of his work in the Courtroom. He encouraged me and helped me stay focused on my dreams and I know he helped to change a lot of other young people’s lives as well. Helping our young people and encouraging the cultivation of bright futures has always been important to me and it is why I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors at the Boys and Girls Club and why I volunteer to participate in judging the Wisconsin State Bar High School Mock Trial Tournament. I would very much like to see and would encourage my colleagues on the Court, if elected, to create a mentorship program among the judges and offer summer internships. As a Judge I would certainly like to play a role in not only preventing youth violence but encouraging our next generation of talented young leaders. 

What is your vision for the future of our judicial system: What changes would you advocate for and why? 

My vision for the future of our judicial system would be to eliminate the huge case backlogs, eradicate access to justice issues, invest in more resources for indigent and pro se litigants in civil matters, invest in justice alternatives and restorative justice methods, invest in new courtroom technology, invest in data that measures the success and impact of judicial programs and alternatives, encourage greater support for mediation and dispute resolution, provide more resources and education regarding the courts, laws, legal rights, and procedures, create opportunities for judges to engage more with community members and create a more open and accessible courthouse environment through tours and informational sessions and programs. I would advocate for these changes because I want to ensure that we have a fair and just system that works for everyone. 

Why should voters support you rather than your opponent? 

First, I think we live in much more complex times than we did even a few years ago. The pandemic was an unprecedented event that wreaked havoc on our way of life and that had a profound impact on caseloads and the people having to utilize or defend themselves using the Court system for the very first time. The next Judge needs to have a much wider view of the challenges our County faces to understand how those challenges will affect the Judiciary and the people that come before the court. Having served in local government I understand both the challenges and the opportunities available and have developed relationships and collaborative opportunities with people throughout our state’s government. I believe the next judge needs to be someone who is close to the community and has worked to improve the quality of life of the residents of Marathon County, someone you know works as hard as you do and has your back. I am that candidate. I am running because I am committed and invested in this Community and I share your values. I chose to make this my home, and I love this community and am dedicated to it. I am proud of the work that I have done in this community in getting 1.1 million in coronavirus aid and in leading the fight for the Community for All resolution.  I am currently the Marathon County Board Supervisor for District 3 and I proudly serve on 14 committees and task forces in our community including in the role as President of the Police and Fire Commission, and as a Wausau Task Force Member, which has helped me to develop good relationships with the District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, Public Defender’s Office, Wausau Police Department and Fire Department.

Secondly, I will bring a different life experience and fresh perspective as a diverse candidate and have a wide base of legal knowledge, experience, and skill that will benefit Marathon County. I have been barred since 2011 and I currently work for a non-profit law firm practicing family law – representing victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse, and representing low-income clients in housing law, consumer law, unemployment law, and I practice tribal law all over the state. I have represented survivors, workers, families, people who have faced unbelievable hardships and I have provided assistance and tackled cases where there was the greatest need. I would also be the only Judge on the Court if elected with 2 Master’s in Law Degrees. I think the next judge should be able to pull from a wide range of experiences and skills as they will have to deal with a variety of legal matters and life challenges, and I am certainly well rounded in my legal practice.

Lastly, I am honest, fair, ethical, a good listener and empathetic. I have never run for a partisan political office in my life. I believe that judges aren’t legislators, they make our system and justice work by upholding and respecting our laws and constitution. I have worked with people from all different walks of life and believe that everyone deserves a fair shake. I understand the great responsibility and how the work that Judges do both small and large has the potential to transform someone’s life. If elected I will be committed and tireless in my efforts to see that justice is served every day and to every person, I will be a judge for the people of Marathon County if blessed with this great opportunity and responsibility. 

What else would you like voters to know about you? 

I want voters to know that being a Judge is a lifelong dream of mine that I have prepared for my entire life. The first time I was in court I was about 4 years old, when my dad adopted me. Meeting the Judge that day had a profound impact on me. I wanted to be a Judge at 4 years old because that Judge gave me my family and I want to help other families like he did for me and I might not be here today if it wasn’t for that special moment that changed my life. And though my reasons for wanting to be a judge have grown and developed much as myself, I have never forgotten about the transformational impact that a person in that position can have on the lives of everyday people and I still hope to one day do the same as a Judge, for someone else. 

I also want voters to know that if given the opportunity I will make you proud. I want voters to know that I have worked to earn your respect, trust, and faith in me, and I am grateful for the opportunity given to me to lead as a Marathon County Supervisor and it would be an honor and a privilege to lead you as the next Marathon County Circuit Court Judge. Lastly, I am asking for your vote, I am asking for your support, and I am asking you to continue to help move this County forward, together! Thank you!