Northwestern grad joins benchA Northwestern High School graduate has been elected as Dane County’s newest judge. Rhonda Lanford received 52.3 percent of the votes, beating Dane County Circuit Judge Rebecca St. John, who was appointed in August by Gov. Scott Walker.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A Northwestern High School graduate has been elected as Dane County’s newest judge. Rhonda Lanford received 52.3 percent of the votes, beating Dane County Circuit Judge Rebecca St. John, who was appointed in August by Gov. Scott Walker.
“As an attorney I’ve reached many milestones in my career,” said Lanford, who has been selected as a Top Lawyer in Madison, was named a Super Lawyer three years running by Wisconsin Law & Politics and a Leader in the Law by the Wisconsin Law Journal. Since she started practicing law in 1997, Lanford has successfully argued cases in front of numerous circuit courts in Wisconsin, the state Court of Appeals, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. She also teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she co-founded the school’s successful mock trial program.
But the Northwestern High School graduate has never been one to rest on her laurels. Public service, she said, was the logical next step.
“It’s the way I could do the most good for the most people,” she said.
Lanford always wanted to be a lawyer.
“I grew up in a very poor family,” she said, and she was struck by the fact that people with no money can often get left out with no voice.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1988 with a double major in political science and French, she worked at a law firm for five years to raise the money for law school.
“I did every job but lawyer,” said the new judge.
Her former high school teachers Saundra Kortesma and Susan Bombich were proud to hear of Lanford’s election results, but not surprised.
“As a student at Northwestern, she was always determined and committed to being successful,” said Bombich, who taught physical education. “That was not just in the classroom, but in band, clubs and in sports.”
“She was an outstanding student with a great amount of talent,” Kortesma said.
Now Lanford is ready for a new challenge, taking the judge’s seat. One of her mentors is former Dane County Judge Susan Steingass and she looks forward to working with current judge Ellen Berz.
“I strongly believe that Rhonda will bring to the judicial bench a strong sense of applying the law fairly and with the firmness and compassion that an individual needs,” Bombich said. “Madison and Dane County are very fortunate to have such a strong and passionate person such as Rhonda to be the one that is sitting on the bench.”
She is a small-town girl made good, Kortesma said, and she wants to help everyday people.
Lanford gave credit to the two teachers and her sister Diane Martin for setting her on the path to success.
“I would not be where I am today without them,” she said. Martin basically raised Lanford. Bombich and Kortesma kept her interested in school and learning, served as mentors and encouraged her to push herself.
“Without them I wouldn’t have gotten out of Iron River,” Lanford said.
One thing she has always been very proud of is the great education she received in the Maple School District.
“We have some really great teachers in high school,” she said. “They gave me a great start to my career.”
Now Lanford is both teacher and judge. She will continue to teach after taking the bench in August. Kortesma said she plans to be there to see her former student become a judge.
“She is very much a part of my heart,” Kortesma said.
“I am tremendously proud of her,” Bombich said.