The race to replace Mark Mangerson as the Branch II Oneida County Circuit Court Judge gained another entrant this week, as Tim Vocke announced his intentions to run.
The longtime Rhinelander attorney and former Vilas County Circuit Court Judge took out nomination papers this week. He joins Oneida County District Attorney Mike Bloom and Rhinelander attorney John O’Melia as candidates for the seat. Vocke resigned from his seat on the State of Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) on Tuesday in order to run.
“I greatly enjoyed my time with the GAB, but becoming a full time judge again is something I’ve been considering for a long time,” said Vocke, who for years has served as a State of Wisconsin reserve judge. “I’ve been doing more and more as a reserve judge around the state over the past few years, and it’s been energizing. I guess I’ve got the itch again.”
Vocke has nearly 40 years experience as a prosecutor, trial attorney and judge. In addition to his time as a Vilas County Circuit Court judge in the 1980s, he has served as district attorney for Vilas County, and on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Code of Professional Responsibility Committee. Vocke was appointed to the district attorney’s post by Gov. Patrick Lucey, a Democrat, in 1976, and ran as a Democrat for re-election, before running for the nonpartisan judgeship in 1979, serving until 1983. Vocke, who retired about 21/2 years ago from the Eckert, Kost and Vocke Law Firm in Rhinelander, said he has never declared a political party, and keeps his political leanings close to the vest.
“I have never in my life voted straight ticket,” said Vocke. “I’ve always felt that judges should not be biased, and that includes political leanings. I consider myself objective in every sense of the word.”
Before deciding to run for the Oneida County District Court seat, Vocke admitted he had been interested in the judicial opening with the Third District Court of Appeals, based in Wausau. However, when Mangerson too expressed interest in being appointed to the seat several weeks ago, Vocke quickly bowed out.
“I consider Mark a very good friend, as someone I have known personally for decades,” said Vocke. “That seat would be up for election next year, and I wouldn’t run against him. I’m 100 percent certain Mark will be appointed to that seat, and that would be a terrific choice.”
Vocke said he’d likely have some regrets about giving up his seat on the GAB. He was appointed to the seat in June, during a time of great political turmoil in the state as the first round of recalls were being verified. The GAB was criticized by many as a partisan body after it sought an extra week to consider whether to throw out recall elections against three Democratic state senators. While the board did eventually set those elections, it didn’t stop the detractors from accusing the board of biased behavior. Vocke said that the judges on the GAB were often charged with making decisions that would ultimately leave a large number of people unhappy.
“Basically the members of the GAB are referees. When you are a referee, your job is to be objective and unbiased,” said Vocke. “Still, people yell when they don’t get the calls they want. It was a valuable learning experience for me.”
It’s that experience, along with his years as a judge, prosecutor and attorney, that Vocke believes gives him a leg up in the race to succeed Mangerson.
“I know both my opponents very well as excellent attorneys,” said Vocke. “They have never been judges, though. I believe that my experience is the biggest thing that makes me stand out.”
Vocke said he’s in much better personal health than he was when he retired as a trial attorney due in large part to a heart attack he suffered. He’s lost a considerable amount of weight and works out regularly, even teaching yoga classes on the side. He said his health scare but a lot of things in perspective.
“I found I couldn’t stay retired,” said Vocke. “I’m too much of a busy-body I guess. Now I don’t think I could ever retire. I just like being out there and being active, keeping my mind sharp.”
Mangerson’s seat is one of two circuit court judge seats in Oneida County, as Patrick O’Melia currently serves as the Branch I Circuit Court Judge. Because there are now three candidates for the seat, there will be a primary election on Feb. 21, 2012. The top two candidates will then move on the spring general election on April 3, 2012.