When it comes to community involvement, Washington County Circuit Judge Andrew Gonring has a simple philosophy.
“If you make your living off the community,” he said, “you have an obligation to give back.”
It’s a philosophy he applies in his courtroom, where Gonring offers the weekly Family Law Assistance Program, which allows pro se litigants to discuss court procedure with volunteer attorneys.
“That program is important because there are so many pro se litigants in the court system, especially in the area of family law,” said Linda Vanden Heuvel, an attorney with Vanden Heuvel & Dineen SC in Germantown. “By providing instruction to (them), he has, I think, created a greater comfort level for people who are getting divorced while at the same time benefiting the court system and other lawyers by making sure pro litigants have some knowledge.”
Gonring’s community connections — he’s a board member of the West Bend Full Shelf Food Pantry and the Cedar Community Foundation, as well as a virtual fixture in local theater — also help, Vanden Heuvel said.
“Judge Gonring is an excellent, fair and compassionate judge, but he’s also able to take those skills off the bench and into the community,” Vanden Heuvel said. “He allows people in Washington County to know him as a person and know him as a judge. And it just makes the court system as a whole more accessible.”
That’s important to Gonring, who said he has tried to strike a balance between his judicial duties and his community obligations since he took the bench in 2000.
“I’ve always been involved in the community,” he said. “When you become judge, a lot of people think you can’t be involved any longer.”
But, “there are ways,” he said.
“I am still part of this community, and I try to give back to the community to the extent I can as judge,” Gonring said. “People have to know that the person sitting on the bench, who is going to drastically affect their life, is a person who lives in their community and has the same concerns they do and not just someone reading a law book.”