Gretchen Schuldt
Court Watch

The Judge That Robin Vos Hates

Who is Judge Josann Reynolds, the Walker appointee who ruled he must hold special elections?

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Mar 27th, 2018 11:33 am
Josann M. Reynolds

Josann M. Reynolds

This story is part of a series presenting information about Gov. Scott Walker‘s appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees’ own judgeship applications.

Dane County Circuit Judge Josann M. Reynolds was recently assailed by State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last week after Reynolds ordered Gov. Walker to hold special elections to fill two vacant seats in the Legislature.

Vos said Reynolds is an “activist judge” who injected her “own personal opinion into how we conduct elections,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also said her approach was endemic among Madison judges.

State law says Walker must call a special election to fill any legislative seat vacated “before the second Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held.”

Walker aides argued that special elections weren’t required because the vacancies occurred in 2017, not in election year 2018.

As the JS reported: “The judge called that interpretation absurd because a seat that becomes vacant in 2017 remains empty longer than one that begins in 2018.”

“To state the obvious, if the plaintiffs have a right to vote for their representatives, they must have an election to do so,” said Reynolds.

Here’s her background. Is Reynolds an activist judge? You decide.

Name: Josann M. Reynolds

Appointed to: Dane County Circuit Court

Appointment date: Sept. 19, 2014 (Elected to full term in 2015)

Law School – University of Wisconsin – Madison
Undergrad –University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh
High School – No answer

Recent Employment:
May 2009 – Aug. 2010 and March 2011 – present – Attorney, Sipsma, Hahn & Brophy, Madison
Aug. 2010 – March 2011 – Attorney, Winner, Wixson & Pernitz, Madison

1980-1995  Clerk, associate, partner, Jenswold, Studt, Hanson, Clark & Kaurfman, Madison

Non-legal employment:
– Operator, Port Douglas Drive & Tours, Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Wisconsin Bar
Dane County Bar Association
American Bar Association
Hague Convention Attorney Network

Dane County Bar Association, Board Member; Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers; Civil Trial Counsel of Wisconsin; Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility, District 9 Committee

Legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, administrative proceedings: Represented major insurance companies, area municipalities in first job. Served as prosecutor for City of Stoughton, Village of McFarland, and City of Middleton for eight years. Also practiced in federal court and several Wisconsin circuit courts. Represented individuals and employers in employment discrimination cases. Extensive experience in family law; argued before Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Jury, 20-30; non-jury, innumerable when including those where I acted as a municipal prosecutor; arbitration, 0; administrative bodies, 3-5.

Number of cases litigated on appeal: Three that I recall in which I was lead counsel. There were many others in which I conducted research, assembled the record and prepared briefs during my clerk/associate period at Jenswold, Studt.

Two most significant cases in which you were involved:

Pleuss v Chi Psi; Ct. Appeals 131 Wis. 2d,. 589, (1986) is one of the most significant cases I
have been involved in not only because of the unique exposure it provided to trial advocacy in
the real world but also for the opportunity to observe a circuit court judge manage complex

(WJI note: The case stemmed from an early-morning electrical fire in the Chi Psi fraternity house in Madison. Ultimately, an out-of-town guest fell from a third-story window onto a concrete staircase.)

This was an extraordinarily long trial and the judge had to manage divergent parties and interests, the jury, scheduling and hear arguments and make rulings while keeping the case moving forward. It provided insight into how a judge sets the tone in the courtroom by allowing the lawyers to try their own cases while keeping control of the proceedings. There were approximately 20 lawyers present daily during the trial, some with alliances, others representing individual interests, all with their own egos and agendas. It was a lesson in how to herd lawyers as well as a lesson in advocacy, evidence, civil procedure and courtroom decorum.

A second significant case remains active today. A copy of the brief submitted on behalf of my client in response to the opposing party’s Motion to Dismiss and for Relief is attached as one of
my writing samples. This case began in the Western District Federal Court as an OTSC pursuant to the Hague Convention as Case No. 12 CV 644 seeking the immediate return of the client’s minor child to her father in Italy. The case was handled under an expedited schedule which was very challenging due to the fact that handling actions inolving (sic) a Hague Petition is a rarity for most attorneys and most evidence was located in Italy and written in Italian. We prevailed in retaining the child in the U.S. despite the one year presumption for return of a child, primarly(sic) based on Judge Crabb’s assessment of the parties’ credibility. This case was then filed as a family law matter in Rock County Circuit Court. … The case has followed a convoluted and tortured path because of the international complexities and has covered basic civil procedure issues including personal service and both personal and subject matter jurisdiction harking back to the holding in International Shoe. Professionally the case has been interesting, multifaceted and demanding. Personally, the case has been rewarding and satisfying based on the importance it held im (sic) my client’s life and the fact that justice was done in an exceedingly complex case. This case also resulted in the U.S. Department of State contacting me and inviting my membership in the Hague Convention Attorney Network and providing my name to the parents of other children involved in international custody disputes.

(WJI note: The attorney network provides free or reduced-rate assistance to low-income parents involved in international parental child abduction cases.)

In 2013 I represented a father in France who had his children wrongfully removed by their mother and relocated here in Wisconsin. That case was tried in the Eastern District Federal Court and the children were ordered to be returned to their native France at the conclusion of the hearing. This case was also very significant to my client and the deep sense of gratitude from the father upon the realization his children were coming home was extremely rewarding both personally and professionally.

Prior judicial experience:  N/A

All runs for elective office: N/A

Judicial or non-partisan candidates that you have publicly endorsed in the last six years:
Judge Richard Niess

Describe any additional involvement in professional or civic organizations, volunteer activities, service in a church or synagogue, or any other activities or hobbies that could be relevant or helpful to consideration of your application: I regularly volunteer in the Dane County Bar’s mediation program, which provides a cost-effective means for parties in lawsuits to obtain the assistance of a neutral third party mediator in facilitating the resolution of a dispute. This is important for all litigants but of particular significance in family law matters with minor children when the parties will have an ongoing need to interact in the future. In terms of current civic involvement, as a single parent, much of my volunteer time is invested in maintaining my daughter’s schedule and in activities appropriate for participation with her including field trips, working at concession stands and in athletic activities. While in Australia, our staff and I devoted a great deal of time and resources to community causes including civic activities in Port Douglas as well as fundraisers and charitable work for groups and individuals in need.

Pro bono work in last five years: Mediator in the Dane County Bar mediation program, volunteer at the Dane County Family Law Clinic, Hague Convention Attorney Network.

Why I Want to Be a Judge – Over the course of my life and legal career I have seen the legal system function well and function poorly. I take great satisfaction in seeing, and being part of assisting in ensuring our system of justice functions well. I believe I can continue to contribute on a positive level toward that goal as a Judge.

The opportunity to serve as a Dane County Judge would also provide the vehicle to bring together the diverse skills I have accumulated through my unique experiences to benefit the citizens, the judiciary and the system. My impetus for attending law school was a deeply seated, inherent interest, in seeing fairness and justice have a place in the world. The opportunity to serve my community, my profession and society is something that I have long aspired to achieve and, for an attorney, serving as a Judge is the ultimate expression of that commitment. …

My experience as an attorney with extensive courtroom and legal experience has honed my ability to read, understand and apply all areas of the law to a given fact situation and has given me a solid perspective on the role of a circuit court judge. I am also fortunate to possess abundant common sense which should never get lost in the machinations of our legal system.

Judicial philosophy – Our judicial system is an essential underpinning of our remarkable system of democracy. It is a co-equal but independent branch of the government which provides a redress for grievances and a forum to resolve personal conflicts in a peaceful arena. Thus, Judges should be patient and engage in a thoughtful and predictable analysis of the existing law. Parties need predictability in preparing and presenting their cases. A judge’s obligation is to provide litigants and their attorneys a full and fair opportunity to be heard. Many litigants will only have one experience in the courtroom and it is important that they perceive they are treated with dignity and respect.

Judges should be fully prepared when they enter the courtroom and be dedicated to dispensing with cases promptly and efficiently. Justice delayed truly can be justice denied. Delay can compromise the administration of justice because the expense of the process is onerous both to the participants and the citizens. By promptly handling a case load, limited resources are conserved. This is particularly true in family law matters where a limited marital estate is rapidly consumed by adversarial proceedings.

Judges should be patient and engage in a thoughtful and predictable analysis of the existing law. A circuit court judge should recognize his or her duty is to apply the law and not legislate new law. Parties need predictability in preparing and presenting their cases.

Best Wisconsin or US Supreme Court decision in the last 30 years – Tucker v. Marcus, 1988.

Early in my legal career I handled a challenging case from the time it was filed, through discovery, depositions and all pretrial motions and ultimately to a jury trial and verdict. The case ended up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to appear and argue the case before our highest Court. Therefore, I am sure my personal involvement is a factor in my selection but I believe one of the best decision (sic) of the last 30 years of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is Tucker v. Marcus. … The decision in Tucker set a legal precedent limiting the recovery of punitive damages. Tucker involved the drowning of a minor child at an indoor swimming pool which was arguably, poorly maintained. While the jury did not find the maintenance of the pool a cause of the drowning, they did award punitive damage based on the condition of the pool. The trial court entered judgment for the plaintiff as to the punitive damages awarded by the jury and defendants appealed. The holding is important because it established the law which precludes the recovery of punitive damages in cases where no underlying liability exists. The decision reinforced the elementary principals of our tort law requiring not only proof of injury, but proof of causation as well, for a prevailing party to be entitled to recovery. The opinion is also significant for its analysis and recognition that the Court should not adopt a modified system of comparative negligence inconsistent with legislative intent. This rational (sic), set forth in dicta, confirms the need for the separation of judicial powers from those belonging to the legislative and executive branches of government.

Worst Wisconsin or US Supreme Court decision — Thomas ex rel. Gramling v. Mallett, 2005

This case extended the risk-contribution theory established in Collins v. Eli Lilly Co. … N.W.2d 37 (1984), to manufacturers of white lead pigment whose products were used in the production of lead based paint. (The Collins decision concerned the effects of the prescription medicine diethylstilbestrol (DES) on pregnant women and their unborn fetuses). Everyone is familiar with the devastating effects ingesting lead paint can have on the development of young children. The Gramling case is a classic example of hard facts making bad law. The plaintiff was born in 1990 and as a child lived in a series of run down housing units which had been built in the early 1900’s in Milwaukee. Unfortunately those homes had been painted using lead based paints and the plaintiff suffered severe deficits as a result of his exposure to those paints. It was impossible to trace the producers of the paints actually used in the residences in question.

The court undertook a laborious 33 page decision involving the history and use of lead based paints and its known adverse effects if ingested by humans, particularly children. Ultimately the Court concluded that in comparing the interests of the innocent victim who suffered severe harm and those of the defendants who may have provided the product which caused the injury, the interests of justice and fundamental fairness dictate that the defendants should pay.

The decision in Gramling created liability out of policy considerations without regard to fundamental legal concepts of privity of contract or a causal connection between the defendants and the damages sustained by the plaintiff. Our legal system, and in part our economic system, depend upon an objective ability to predict liability. The decision is result oriented and creates an entirely new cause of action.

The federal court did limit the effect of the Gramling decision in Gibson v. Am. Cyanamid Co. … by protecting successor corporations from a claim founded on the risk-contribution theory of liability.

Previous judicial applications: 1990, 2012

Other information that may be helpful:

I am undaunted by a challenge. I left a very successful legal practice at 38 years of age because my husband’s son was diagnosed with a very rare, aggressive cancer. We went to Australia for his surgery and returned to Madison to continue my career. Unfortunately the cancer metastasized and I took a second leave of absence. Ultimately I resigned my partnership and returned to Australia. My husband and I learned to dive and operate all of the electronics, hydraulics and mechanics on our 48 foot vessel and navigated our way to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It was exhilarating, exhausting and immensely satisfying. It was a challenge I embraced and it provided the opportunity for exposure and interaction with people from diverse cultures. It also afforded me the opportunity to observe alternate systems of law and judicial process.

I can make the tough decisions when necessary. At age 52 I returned to Madison with my then 7 year old daughter as a full time single parent and have rebuilt a successful career and earned the respect of my colleagues, my fellow attorneys who I oppose in court and the judges I appear before. I will make the difficult decisions when necessary as a circuit court judge.

I have a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and a capacity for hard, focused work. When I was on the District 9 Committee of the Board of Professional Responsibilities the then chairman was noted to comment “If you want a job done, give it to Josann Reynolds”. This attitude permeates every aspect of my life and it will continue to do so given the opportunity to serve on the bench in Dane County.  I also have the patience and personal skills to deal with litigants in high conflict situations.

I am not a score keeper. I do not bear grudges. I cannot tell you how many cases I have tried and won. Most of them. But I can tell you each of the cases I tried to a jury and lost. What I remember from those cases is not who opposing counsel happened to be, but the lessons learned and how to improve and better serve my clients. I will treat all litigants and attorneys in my courtroom with the respect and impartiality they deserve. I have had the great pleasure of calling several trial judges close acquaintances and through those interactions I have gained considerable insight and respect for the role of the judiciary.

I have given careful consideration to the fact that if appointed I may face an election in April of 2015. I have met with campaign organizers, former candidates, and current and former judges who have shared their insights and recommendations about the most effective approach to building a strong campaign organization. In addition, I have begun the outreach necessary to assemble a broad and diverse base of grass roots support.

I am extremely well organized. My trial experience solidified the importance of being well prepared. I strive to walk into the courtroom with control over the examination of witnesses and the presentation of exhibits. My goal is to have nothing happen in front of the jury that I am ill prepared to handle. My organizational skills were imperative when provisioning our boat to be out to sea for 6-8 months at a time cruising in undeveloped countries. We never ran out of any necessity, or provision. I will run my courtroom with the same organization, preparation and sense of purpose.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation

3 thoughts on “Court Watch: The Judge That Robin Vos Hates”

  1. Terry says:

    Republicans have stooped to new lows even for them. In November we need to vote as many of these corrupt slimebags out of office as possible.

    Dump Vos
    Dump Walker
    Dump Schimel
    Dump Vukmir
    Dump Fitzgerald
    Dump ALL Republicans

  2. GRNDPAKWH says:

    When I first read about the special session I dismissed it as an article from the Onion, then I realized it was a fact. My next step was to check my address, my driver’s license and finally my calendar. I had to make absolutely certain I did not time travel back to my youth living in Mayor Daley’s Chicago. The year is 2018 and I do live in the city of Milwaukee.

  3. Tom says:

    If Vos hates her what’s not to like?

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