RACINE — Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice candidate, told an audience here Monday that he’ll be “a listening judge.”
Mitchell, a Dane County Circuit Court judge since 2016, is seeking the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Patience Roggensack, who is not seeking re-election. The Spring Election is April 4, 2023.
Mitchell’s main goals on Monday were to introduce himself to Racine area voters and get signatures on his nomination petition. Candidates for the state’s high court are required to get 2,000 to 4,000 signatures.
Telling his story
After mingling with audience members – many of them local activists – Mitchell used his remarks to tell his story and share his judicial philosophy.
A native of Texas, he admitted that he was perfectly happy to be working in a grocery store after high school. But officials from a nearby college contacted him after hearing from his high school counselor that he was a good student. Mitchell decided to give college a try.
Mitchell said that two teachers at Jarvis Christian College took the time and energy to show him how to study and be disciplined. “They said, ‘Baby, you’re a diamond in the rough. Just sit on down, we’re going to teach you,’” he said.
That made all the difference.
Mitchell later transferred to Morehouse College in Atlanta where he earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics and religion. He went on to earn graduate degrees in divinity in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. Then, he earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010.
He worked as an assistant district attorney and also volunteered his time doing pro bono work for those who can’t afford a lawyer, before becoming a Dane County District Court judge.
Mitchell is also senior pastor at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison and teaches at the UW-Madison Law School. He and his wife, Dr. Mankah Zama Mitchell, have two children.
Mitchell told the audience that his life experiences and faith are behind his approach to justice.
He told of pair of separate reforms that he pushed during his career. One came while serving on a committee reviewing the state’s Consolidated Court Automation Programs system or CCAP.
The public has easy access to criminal and civil court case information via the online CCAP system, Mitchell said. However, when that information isn’t updated promptly, individuals can be adversely affected.
“Today, people who have been charged and found not guilty or had their cases dismissed are removed from CCAP because that’s the right thing to do,” he said.
As the presiding judge over Dane County’s juvenile division, Mitchell said he insisted that juvenile offenders not appear in his court in restraints or shackles.
“The court system need not be the most traumatic thing that a child faces,” he said.
‘We’re all similar’
Mitchell urged the audience members to think of him, a Black candidate, as electable in a statewide race for Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“A few years back, there was this Black, skinny senator from Illinois,” he said of then-candidate Barak Obama, whose presidential election was twice supported by Wisconsin voters. “Don’t let them push you into a corner thinking this race is so vital that you can’t take a risk. “I’m not risky.”
Mitchell also said that he believes that he’s relatable to residents of both urban and rural areas.
“I was just up in Viroqua (a small community in the west-central part of the state). We’re all similar.”
Mitchell is one of four announced candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. The nonpartisan, elected position has a 10-year term.
Other announced candidates are:
- Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a judge since 2014. She previously worked for 26 years as an assistant Milwaukee County District Attorney.
- Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, who served four years before being defeated in a re-election bid in 2020.
- Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow, who presided over the recent high-profile trial of Darrel Brooks, a Milwaukee man convicted of killing six people during the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade.
If all four candidates make the ballot, a primary election will be held on Feb. 21, 2023 to winnow the field down to two candidates.
Mitchell, however, scarcely mentioned a potentially crowded field. He stuck to his own opinions.
“Just as there is a separation between church and state,” he said. “There must be a separation between partisanship and justice.”
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