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‘Gaming the system’? Branch 5 candidates debate Milwaukee County residency

By: Michaela Paukner, [email protected]//February 3, 2020//

‘Gaming the system’? Branch 5 candidates debate Milwaukee County residency

By: Michaela Paukner, [email protected]//February 3, 2020//

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At a debate among three candidates for Milwaukee County Circuit Court Branch 5 judge on Monday, much of the discussion was about whether two of them can truly be called Milwaukee residents.

Judge Paul Dedinsky is running to keep his seat on the Branch 5 children’s court. Gov. Scott Walker appointed him to the position in 2018. His challengers are Brett Blomme, president and CEO of the nonprofit Cream City Foundation, and Zach Whitney, a shareholder at Kohner, Mann & Kailas.

During a forum on Monday at the Milwaukee Bar Association, the candidates took up an ongoing debate about their residencies. Whitney said that because Dedinsky’s and Blomme’s families don’t live in Milwaukee County, Dedinsky and Blomme themselves don’t technically meet eligibility requirements to serve as a Milwaukee County judge under Wisconsin law.

“It says a married person resides not where they work — it’s where their family lives,” Whitney said. “Neither of my opponents are following the letter or the spirit of the law.”

Blomme said he lives and works in Milwaukee, but his husband and children live in the Madison area. He said he receives no health benefits through the Cream City Foundation so his family needs the benefits his husband gets through his job at UW-Madison.

“Mr. Whitney likes to talk about this issue because he doesn’t like to talk about the type of judge he would be and his reputation in the judicial system,” Blomme said. “This is a distraction.”

When asked about his current residency, Dedinsky said he lives in Whitefish Bay, but that his wife moved out to take care of her elderly parents.

“What Mr. Whitney is doing is shoehorning a statute, quite frankly, misapplying a statute that’s meant for a different type of scenario,” Dedinsky said. “It ought to cause everyone concern that someone who’s trying to become a judge is misreading and misapplying the law.”

Blomme echoed Dedinsky’s arguments.

“This might be one of the only issues that I agree with Mr. Dedinsky on,” Blomme said. “He is misapplying the law.”

Whitney called Blomme’s experience into question, saying Blomme had never appeared in the Milwaukee County courthouse.

Whitney then said Dedinsky is “gaming the system” with his interpretation of the statute. Dedinsky had previously applied for an open judge position in Waukesha County and said, in his application, that he had lived in Waukesha County for 22 years.

“Would he be saying this had he been appointed by Gov. Walker for the position he applied for out in Waukesha County? I think not,” Whitney said.

Whitney said he moved to Milwaukee 20 years ago and has lived in various parts of the city since then with his family. Dedinsky questioned Whitney’s loyalty to the city.

“I remember you walking around the courthouse with a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey on over your tie and your shirt,” Dedinsky said. “We know where you’re rooted and where you came from, and you don’t raise that.”

The candidates also discussed their previous legal experience, demeanor in the courtroom and plans to end mass incarceration. Dedinsky cited attempt to educate and support impoverished people and called his courtroom welcoming and fair.

Blomme called himself a bridge-builder who listens to people. He said he’d hold people accountable and make sentencing changes to combat mass incarceration.

Whitney said he would make sentencing decisions that would prevent certain parole violations from sending people back to prison.

The primary election is scheduled for Feb. 18.

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