RACINE - Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday afternoon appointed Racine County District Attorney Mike Nieskes to fill the judicial vacancy in Racine County Circuit Court.
Nieskes will take the seat of the late Judge Dennis Barry who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in August. The appointment is good only until spring when Nieskes must stand for election to a regular six-year judicial term.
Nieskes has been with the Racine County District Attorney's Office since 1989. Prior to that he served as a prosecuting attorney for several counties in southern Illinois. In 1990 he became deputy district attorney under Lennie Weber, served as acting district attorney in 1993 after her resignation, and returned to the deputy job until he took over as district attorney in January 2005 after running unopposed.
Nieskes said he applied because he believes at this point in his career he can contribute best from the bench.
"The district attorney's office gives you different challenges every day. While some cases do seem somewhat routine, there's new cases, new individuals, new opportunities every day. I just felt I'd come to a point in my life where I needed a different experience, and my experiences could be put to better use at this time," he said.
When he will take his judge's chair is not settled. First he needs a letter of appointment from the governor's office, he said. Next he will have to resign as district attorney and will undergo a two-week mentoring process with other judges from Racine and Kenosha counties. Then he will take over Barry's civil court cases.
"As a judge what I hope to do is follow the law and not my opinion of what the law should be," he said.
Yet was not the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending school segregation a change of opinion on the part of the U.S. Supreme Court? No, Nieskes said. There is some room for opinion, but the law and duties of the courts are largely clear, he said.
"Brown v. Topeka Board of Education was just a cleansing of a prior bad decision," he said. "I think it's pretty clear what the Constitution is. I think courts get in trouble when they inject their personal opinion instead of what the legal standards are.
"The facts are what make the issues gray," he said.
Nieskes and his wife, Barbara, have two grown children. Claire, 23, works in Waukesha and Kevin, 20, works in Milwaukee.
When he resigns, the governor's office will take applicants for the position of district attorney. Nieskes said his deputy of six years, Rich Chiapete, intends to apply, appears to have the support of the other lawyers in the office, and is best qualified for the job.