By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Three people have declared their candidacy to replace Dunn County Circuit Court Judge William Stewart in the spring election.
Two of the candidates, Roger Hillestad of Dunnville, and Christine Mayer of Menomonie, are practicing attorneys.
The third candidate is Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson.
All three candidates submitted news releases to the Colfax Messenger and the Glenwood City Tribune.
Judge Stewart retired in November.
A primary for circuit court judge will be held February 18.
The general election will be held April 1.
The candidates are featured here in alphabetical order.
Roger M. Hillestad, 54, is in private practice in Durand and serves as the Buffalo and Pepin County Family Court Commissioner.
A court commissioner is a judicial official who hears divorce and child custody matters and has the authority to hear most court hearings.
Hillestad has more than ten years of experience on the bench between the two counties.
Hillestad grew up in Menomonie and graduated from Menomonie High School in 1977.
He served three years in the U.S. Army in the military police and then in the U.S. Army Reserves and retired in 1994.
Hillestad served with the 5501st US Army Hospital in Operation Desert Storm and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal, a National Defense Service Medal with Service Star and the Distinguished Unit Citation.
He suffered a back injury while on active duty in the Army Reserves and is a disabled veteran but says he would “do it all over again and would serve now if I could.”
After he was discharged from active duty, Hillestad attended UW-Eau Claire and graduated in 1983. He attended the Hamline University School of Law and graduated in 1987.
After serving briefly in private practice in Hudson, he was hired as an assistant district attorney in Chippewa County and then took a position in Durand, where he has been in private practice since 1989.
Hillestad has owned his own law firm since 1990, and his practice includes criminal and civil trial work, real estate, family law and estate planning and probate.
He served briefly as Pepin County district attorney and is currently the special prosecutor for Buffalo County.
“I’m glad to be back in my home town and am looking forward to serving the residents of Dunn County as judge. As soon as I heard Judge Stewart was retiring I found a house in Dunnville to rent and if elected, I will likely reside in one of the two houses I already own in Dunn County. One is in Rock Falls and the other is in Downsville,” Hillestad said.
“I believe my background, training and experience on the bench makes me the most qualified candidate to fill Judge Stewart’s position. Judge Stewart’s retirement will leave Dunn County without a judge for over half a year. Dunn County therefore needs a judge who is able to hit the ground running, take control and not need a lot of training to get up to speed,” he said.
Hillestad’s family lived in Eau Galle before moving to Menomonie in 1958. His father worked for the Dunn County highway department.
Hillestad’s wife died in 2008, and he has two children, Mark and Mary, who are 17 and eight.
He is a member of the N.R.A., American Legion, is a competitive pistol shooter, and enjoys hunting and fishing while his dog, Remington, loves pheasant hunting.
Christine M. Mayer is a partner at the general practice law firm of Schofield, Higley & Mayer in Menomonie.
She has worked with Ken Schofield and John Higley since she joined the firm in 2001. She became a partner in 2007.
Mayer has a broad spectrum of experience in many areas of law, including guardian at litem work with children, families, the disabled and the elderly.
She is the lead attorney for the Pepin County Department of Human Services and the Pepin County Child Support Agency.
In addition, Mayer has done municipal work, including representing the city of Menomonie and the surrounding towns and villages in Dunn County.
Mayer, 47, graduated from Chippewa Falls Senior High in 1985. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from UW-Eau Claire in political science and economics.
Mayer attended Oklahoma City University School of Law and received her law degree, cum laude, in 1995.
Mayer is a resident of Dunn County and owns a home in Menomonie. She is a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club and has been youth protection officer since July 1, 2010.
“I started seriously contemplating becoming a judge because I was approached by a number of people who encouraged me to run for judge,” Mayer said.
“I am incredibly humbled and honored by the number of people both in and out of the legal field in Dunn County who are supporting me in this process. I would like to become a judge because I believe that I have the ability and skill set to do the job well,” she said.
“I believe I am uniquely qualified to be a judge in Dunn County based upon my work with the people in and around the county. I can be fair and impartial on the bench and would be honored if given the opportunity to do so,” she said.
Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson, 53, is a Menomonie native and a 1978 graduate of Menomonie High School.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota — Minneapolis with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1982. He earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin — Law School in 1985.
Peterson began his career in the private practice of law in Menomonie in 1985. He was hired by former Dunn County DA Michael Furnstahl as an assistant district attorney in 1988.
Peterson was appointed by Governor Tommy Thompson as Dunn County district attorney beginning in January of 1989 and has served as district attorney since then.
He has been elected/re-elected 11 times.
“I would like to serve as circuit judge. An opportunity to seek an open seat on the bench is rare,” Peterson said.
Peterson says his 25 years in the district attorney’s office has prepared him well for serving as judge.
Judge Smeltzer and Judge Stewart both worked in the district attorney’s office, he noted.
“Criminal cases are a big part of the circuit court case load. I have tried over 200 jury trials including a number of intentional homicide cases. I have handled thousands of cases in a wide variety of matters. My courtroom experience would be a tremendous asset as judge,” Peterson said.
The race for circuit court judge is a nonpartisan spring election, which Peterson said is a change he welcomes.
“I have never done my job on a partisan basis, so I would be truly honored to officially serve in a nonpartisan role,” he said.
Peterson lives in Menomonie and says now is a good time in his life.
“My kids are grown and I have the time to dedicate to being a good judge,” he said.
Peterson has three children: Angela Yecke, 28; Trevor Peterson, 26; and Jamie Peterson, 19.
Peterson said he enjoys serving as district attorney and would like to continue in that role if not elected as judge.
“In my 25 years of being district attorney I have never forgotten who I work for. I would continue to serve the public with the same mindset if elected judge,” he said.