Voters will have the choice of three lawyers to fill the large shoes left behind by the late William Padway during the primary election for Fox Point municipal judge Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Scott Wales, Karen Schapiro and J.D. Watts will vie for two spots on the April 3 ballot to fill the position held by Padway, who died suddenly in November.
The winner of the April election will serve two years and will be paid $4,800 annually.
Watts, 55, said the strength of his candidacy is his 30-year experience as a practicing attorney.
"I have been involved in the North Shore all my life," he said.
Watts, who has lived in Fox Point for about 10 years, went to law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Chicago.
"I have really run the full gamut of legal experience and now I am ready to give back to the community in the sense of offering my experience to be a fair judge," said Watts, a father of four of adult children, who has been both a prosecutor and defense attorney.
His law practice focuses on juvenile and family law, and he has worked extensively with troubled teenagers.
"Sometimes the municipal court deals with children who have troubles. I can take that experience and give it back to the community and make good decisions based on my experience raising four children," he said.
Watts said that a great judge has a calm and fair demeanor.
"Everyone in my court will be treated with the utmost respect, dignity and fairly according to the law," he said. "What you want to have as a judge is the right touch for the case."
In the late 1970s, Watts worked in the Milwaukee district attorney's office handling traffic cases.
"That experience lets me stand head and shoulders above," Watts said. "In court, you want a judge who understands the prosecution's role and the defense role."
Padway's legacy as a fair judge who cared deeply for his community resonates throughout this campaign.
"The first challenge is to fill those big shoes and to demonstrate the touch and balance," Watts said.
Schapiro, 48, is an attorney with DeWitt Ross & Stevens who practices environmental, land use and general litigation.
"I long have been committed to public service," she said. "Earlier in my career I practiced as a government lawyer. By becoming the Fox Point municipal judge, it would allow me to combine my passion for public service and my community with my legal skills."
Schapiro, who has lived in Fox Point for 12 years, went to Northwestern University Law School in Chicago.
A great judge is someone who can make legal decisions impartially, Schapiro said.
"Someone who is patient, dedicated and applies common sense," she said. "I see it as a challenge to look at each case on its facts and to apply one's judgment and legal analysis to each case to make sure that the laws are being administered impartially."
Wales, 45, went to law school at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The father of two girls, he grew up in Bayside and went to Nicolet High School.
"I believe in giving back to the community that I live in," said Wales, who attended the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District. "I was very fortunate … that there were certain teachers that reached out to me and helped me at times when I needed assistance. I never forgot that."
Wales, who practices law with Safer & Stein Law Firm, is also an adjunct professor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
"In the context of being a judge, I would not be pursuing this position whatsoever but for the fact my friend passed away," Wales said of Padway's death. "When he passed away, I was approached by some people to consider running."
Wales believes a great judge is a good listener, understands the municipal court process, has sympathy for the victims and is fair.
"One of my goals is to try to intervene and really try to reach out to these young men and women," he said. "Bottom line is I don't want to see them making worse mistakes or find themselves getting in trouble and go to children's court, or when they get older, go to circuit court."
Another goal Wales has for himself is to treat everyone the same.
"Just because somebody is from Mequon or South Milwaukee and have no direct connection to the community, they should not be at a disadvantage," he said. "My goal is to try to reach out to these people."
Brendan O'Brien can be reached at (262) 317-8586. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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