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Wisconsin Supreme Court nominee Jill Karofsky, not just a role model for the girls



Jill Karofsky (center) with her 16-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter. Karofsky is on Tuesday's ballot for Wisconsin state Supreme Court.

She’s a judge. A Wisconsin state Supreme Court nominee. A former Division I athlete at Duke University in track and cross country. A WIAA state tennis champion.

She’s an ultra-marathoner (100 mile race anyone?). An Ironman athlete. A mother of two. And a dog owner of a Golden Retriever named Cleo, who sleeps a lot.

One might just say Jill Karofsky makes a great role model for girls out there. But why stop at girls? The Dane County Circuit Court judge is a woman anyone could look up to but, perhaps, not keep up to if the run is long enough.

Now, Wisconsinites may hold that Duke thing against Karofsky, who is on Tuesday’s ballot for state Supreme Court.

But, after Karofsky got her Bachelor’s Degree from Duke, she headed back to her Wisconsin roots to get both her master’s degree and law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Karofsky didn’t talk much about being a role model for anyone but her two teenage children. She did, however, talk about that “J.” in her name and the woman she looked up to the same way her kids do now.

“The first time I ever walked into a courtroom, I walked into that courtroom to change my middle name to hers,” Jill Karofsky said on WIZM’s La Crosse Talk PM. “When you see the ballot, it will say, ‘Jill J. Karofsky.’ That ‘J.’ in the middle is for my mom Judy.”

Judy Karofsky is a former Mayor of Middleton, Wis. — one of the first women mayors in Wisconsin history.

Judy Karofsky didn’t get a second term, however. What happened after that, though, may have set into motion — almost literally — a lot of her daughter’s future.

“She didn’t win her bid for reelection,” Jill Karofsky said, “and she started running right away, the next day. And I started running with her. I was only 10 years old.”

And Jill Karofsky’s never stopped running. From middle school to high school to college to now, as it’s one of her favorite past times and stress releasers — as running is for many. But, Jill Karofsky will admit, “running,” is a loose term for what she does now.

“As years went by, I got older and older, I got slower and slower so I just started running further and further,” she said. “So, I got into ultras — 50-mile races, 50-kilometers, just 31 miles — and then I got into long-distances triathlons, The Ironman.”

If she’s not in the courtroom, it’s likely Karofsky is on the trails somewhere.

“Look, I love being outside anywhere in Wisconsin,” she said. “Heaven for me is being outside, on some trail running or hiking or biking somewhere in the state of Wisconsin.”

Karofsky hopes to be in La Crosse on Oct. 30 to compete in the Hixon 50 — a 50-kilometer race she says is incredibly hilly, for anyone who’s never been to Hixon Forest.

Karofsky said she finished last ultramarathon — a 50-miler back in August — in 11 hours, 22 minutes. She said her best Ironman — which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 26.2-mile run and a 112-mile bike — came in 13 hours, 53 minutes.

She also mentioned her Golden Retriever Cleo’s best run comes in at 30 minutes, before you have to drag the pup home.

In the courtroom, there’s probably a marathon cliche to use, but let’s just say Karofsky brings a ton of experience.

Talking with her, she threw out credential after credential that would resonate with any law nerd out there. Most can relate to how hard it is to run 50 miles (or 3.2 miles) or compete in a race for over 12 hours. It’s a bit more difficult to relate to what a judge has to do — from becoming a judge to the everyday grind of being a judge.

“I have worked my entire career, the last 30 years, much of it on the front line of the criminal justice system,” Karofsky said. “Right now, I’m a trial court judge here in Dane County. I have presided over 1,700 cases just last year.

“I see how the law impacts real people every single day in my courtroom.”

Karofsky’s resume is a long one. Here’s a snippet:
— Prosecutor for almost a decade
— Victim advocate
— Wisconsin’s first violence against women resource prosecutor
— Head of Wisconsin’s crime victim services for Department of Justice
— Law School professor at the University of Wisconsin
— Near decade at National Conference of Bar Examiners
— Decade prior at Dane County District Attorney’s office

Karofsky touted her record, as compared to her opponent, current Justice Dan Kelly, who wasn’t elected but appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker to replace a retiring judge.

Kelly took over the Supreme Court position with no judicial experience.

“When it comes to experience, I have a depth and breadth of experience my opponent can’t even touch,” Karofsky said.

For more surrounding Kelly’s appointment to the Supreme Court click here.

As for Tuesday’s election, there is controversy that is getting national attention that has nothing to do with Sanders, Biden or the Supreme Court race — though the inaction by state lawmakers in Madison may have everything to do with the latter.

With a coronavirus pandemic overtaking the entire planet, 15 states have postponed their presidential primary elections to stop people from having to go to the polls, risking spread of the virus.

Wisconsin is not one of them. In fact, the state is the only one holding on, though 10 mayors, including La Crosse’s Tim Kabat, asked the DHS head Sunday to step in and stop in-person voting, due to virus fears.

Other groups have been trying to postpone the election or, at least, change it to a mail-only ballot. A federal judge did extend the date to turn in absentee ballots to April 13, but Gov. Tony Evers says he cannot, himself, postpone or change the election.

Evers called a special session Saturday, asking Republicans — who control both the House and Assembly — to make changes to keep people safe from COVID-19.

Republicans gaveled in and out of that meeting in seconds. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both Republicans, said they wouldn’t do it.

While legislative leaders do nothing in Madison to help keep voters safe from the virus, poll workers across the state are quitting, for fear of getting the virus.

Milwaukee usually has 180 polling places. It has cut down to five. That’s three less than La Crosse, which cut down its polls from 13 to eight.

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