Blank, Thimm hope to step up to the benchThe two candidates vying for Douglas County Circuit Court Branch I judge share many similarities, but key differences.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The two candidates vying for Douglas County Circuit Court Branch I judge share many similarities, but key differences.
Both men work in the District Attorney’s Office and bring a wealth of criminal law experience with them. Each has reached out to the community through numerous groups and organizations. Both men want to take their public service to the next level. The upcoming retirement of Judge Michael Lucci, who sat on the bench for 24 years, gave them that opportunity.
Assistant District Attorney Kelly Thimm showed his enthusiasm by jumping into the race with both feet more than a year ago.
“I think I have what it takes to be a judge,” said Thimm, who has been with the District Attorney’s Office 12 years. “And I think my experience and the qualities I have will be well suited to be a judge.”
The Superior native is buoyed in his bid for the judge’s seat by endorsements from a number of key unions — Superior police and firefighters, Douglas County deputies and jailers, the probation and parole department. Even Douglas County’s other circuit court judge, George Glonek, wrote a letter supporting Thimm.
“It’s a humbling experience running for an office and having all of these people come out and support you, especially people that know both of us,” Thimm said.
District Attorney Dan Blank seeks to bring his 18 years experience as district attorney to the judge’s bench. He said he’d bring leadership, innovation and willingness to bring people together to solve problems to the position.
“That’s who I am,” Blank said. “That’s who I’ve been for 18 years. That’s who I would be as judge.”
For the district attorney, this race brings with it a sense of deja vu. When Blank made his bid for district attorney in 1990, he faced off against another newcomer and a 12-year-incumbent. Fresh from law school and new in town, it took courage to take that risk, Blank said. The law enforcement and legal community lined up to support the incumbent, yet Blank snagged 63 percent of the vote. And he’s held the position for 18 years, recently re-elected to his first 4 year term.
When asked what Thimm’s greatest strength was, the district attorney noted the Superior native has great connections in the community.
“He’s smart, efficient and people like him for the most part,” Blank said. “Certainly he’s been quite a connection with law enforcement.”
Thimm listed community involvement and activism as Blank’s biggest strength.
“I think that’s his strongest quality, getting people even outside of the system involved to try to solve problems that the system has,” he said.
But, Thimm said, taking time out to work on these initiatives could become a weakness.
“We need to make the courtroom priority No. 1, as the judges have over the years,” Thimm said.
Also turning a strength into a weakness, Blank said being closely aligned with law enforcement could hinder a judge.
“Independence is absolutely critical,” he said.
Neither candidate has much experience with the flip side of the law, civil cases. Last year, Judge Michael Lucci presided over 536 criminal cases, 336 civil cases and 153 family case and contempt hearings, according to the Clerk of Courts Office. Thimm estimated 50 percent of a judge’s caseload is civil. There will be a learning curve, both candidates admitted.
But, said Thimm, “The general rules of evidence are the rules of evidence.”
“We don’t have civil experience but we’re smart guys,” Blank said. “We’ll figure it out.”
Voters can’t rely on a simple math equation — 12 years of experience versus 18. It’s about who’s got “the right kind of experience,” Blank said.
Thimm pointed to his day-to-day work in the courtroom as a big asset. While Blank has to manage the office and establish policies, he said, he’s been in the courtroom.
“An assistant district attorney is there in the trenches doing the work similar to what a judge would be doing,” Thimm said.
The assistant district attorney also noted that he keeps up to date on breaking court cases and does a great deal of research and writing, both for himself and colleagues.
“I feel very comfortable with the book work, with the legal research and writing,” he said. That would translate well to the judgeship, where there is no one to delegate that task, he said.
Blank said his leadership role makes him a better candidate. As district attorney, he is used to making tough decisions, even if they are unpopular.
“All of the policies and decisions of the office ultimately come back to the district attorney,” he said. “The buck stops there.”
The same is true for a judge, he said, “There’s not a lot of delegating.”
Both candidates are making a last-minute push for votes by making phone calls and knocking on doors. The two will face off during a live debate on KUWS radio at 6 p.m. Monday. The program will be broadcast again at 6 p.m. April 6.
In addition, they will field questions from the public during an open forum 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the conference room of the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College of Superior.