By Steve Schuster
Milwaukee attorney Sara Geenen has won the seat for Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ District I against incumbent Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Brash.
Geenen’s win was a landslide as she earned nearly double the number of votes (90,716) of Brash (46,123 votes).
“The people of Wisconsin and especially, I think, Milwaukee County want to change, want courts that they can be confident will uphold the laws, protect their rights, and protect democracy, and who are more connected to regular people. And the results bear that out,” Geenen said during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal Thursday.
Regarding Act 10, Geenen said “I will follow the law and uphold our constitutional freedoms.”
Brash who was appointed to the appellate court back in 2015 was reelected 2017, and will now only serve a single term. Walker, who appointed Brash supported Republican introduced legislation such as Act 10 and right-to-work in Wisconsin, which effectively ended collective bargaining for public employees.
Labor membership in Wisconsin fell dramatically after the passage of Act 10, the anti-public sector collective bargaining bill in 2011, with the sharpest decrease in the nation over the next decade. As of 2021, Wisconsin reached a new low in union membership, just shy of 8% of the total workforce, PBS reported.
In contrast, Geenen has spent the past 16 years as an attorney with a focus on labor, bankruptcy and employment law and primarily representing workers and local and international labor organizations. She is currently a partner at the Previant Law Firm.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals serves as the Badger state’s intermediate appellate court. Founded in 1978, the court is composed of 16 judges across four districts, headquartered in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Wausau, and Madison respectively. Court of Appeals judges are elected to six-year terms in district-wide, nonpartisan April elections. Vacancies are filled by gubernatorial appointment, and a new appointee is required to stand for election to a full six-year term the following Spring.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals primary role is to correct errors from Circuit Court cases. Court of appeals opinions become binding precedent unless the Wisconsin Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court overrules them.
Although Court of Appeals judges sit in three-judge panels in some cases a single judge can make a ruling.
As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Geenen has more than 30 endorsements including from labor organizations, Clean Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood.
Geenen graduated from University of Wisconsin Law School and has been practicing labor and employment law for the past 16 years in both state and federal courts.
She has represented workers and local & international labor organizations in wage and hour and discrimination matters, collective bargaining, labor and contract disputes and rights enforcement, arbitration, and as creditors in bankruptcy or receivership cases.
Geenen said she grew up in a “blue collar family” and both her parents worked in paper mills.
Geenen said she wanted to become a lawyer so that everyone’s voice could be heard. Geenen said she wants to become a judge because “the legislature is enacting laws the undermine not only democracy, but also the judiciary.”
Geenen specifically referenced gerrymandering and Act 10, and said, “people’s voices are being taken away.”
“I am a firm believer in equal protection under the law. It is important to me to do my part to stand up for democracy. That’s what ultimately shaped my decision to run for court of appeals,” Geenen said.
“We have a court that doesn’t have a much diversity of perspective,” she added.