Public Servant

Attorney Tamara Packard interviews her friend and current candidate for Dane County Circuit Court, Susan Crawford, about her background and what drove her to run for the post.

You and I have been colleagues and law partners for nearly seven years, and now you are running for Dane County Circuit Court. We have done some great work together at Pines Bach. What is it about being a judge that makes you willing to leave what I’ve always thought to be the greatest law firm and job of all time?  

It really is. We’ve had extraordinary opportunities to work on really important issues for our community. While at Pines Bach I’ve represented Planned Parenthood to preserve women’s reproductive rights; I also represented the League of Women Voters to protect citizens’ rights to vote. I represented public school teachers and parents in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, to protect the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s authority over public education after the legislature tried to hand that power to the governor. I recently co-authored an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative districts.

My involvement in those cases deepened my understanding of the role the courts should play in protecting individual rights, ensuring equal justice, and serving as a check on legislative power; particularly to protect minorities, the vulnerable, and the disenfranchised. As a mom of two teens, I’m concerned about the future of our community. I see serving on the circuit court as a natural step in continuing to work for justice and the public interest and a way to have an even broader impact.

I am running to be judge of Branch 1, which is a criminal court. I can’t think of a more important role as our community and justice system grapple with profound racial disparities and unequal access to justice. I’m prepared not just to preside over individual criminal cases, but to collaborate across county government to improve access to justice for all citizens.

Did you know any LGBT people when you were younger?  

I didn’t know any out LGBT people when I attended Chippewa Falls High School in the early ‘80s (though now I know many former classmates who are gay or lesbian). I had many gay and lesbian friends in college at Lawrence University in Appleton, including one of my best friends. After college, she and I lived together in Chicago, in the Boystown neighborhood. Our social circle included mostly gay men. It was a really fun time in many ways, but this was the height of the AIDS crisis, and fear and frustration were always lurking. That was also my first exposure to a big city, with the extremes of wealth and poverty, racial segregation, homelessness, inequality, and injustice.

Why did you go to law school?  

I had the idealistic hope that a law degree would open doors to doing meaningful work for the public good.

Did that happen?  

Over time, it has. My first job out of law school was at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. I argued over a dozen criminal cases in the Iowa Supreme Court. In 1997, I was hired by then-Attorney General Jim Doyle as an assistant attorney general in Wisconsin. I represented the state in criminal cases in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and prosecuted healthcare fraud and patient abuse in circuit courts around the state. In 2000, Doyle appointed me director of the Department of Justice’s criminal appeals unit, overseeing hundreds of cases and managing about two dozen lawyers.

Sounds challenging. And wasn’t your daughter born around that time?  

I was a new mom. I would spend my evenings reading briefs with my baby sleeping on my lap. I was responsible for ensuring that the state’s positions were consistent and promoted justice. I had to master criminal law and gained an appreciation for how the law evolves from case to case. I learned to take the long view and consider how a ruling will be applied in the future.

By the time I met you, probably 2010, Doyle had become governor and you were his Chief Legal Counsel. Tell us about that.  

After he became governor, Doyle appointed me to several leadership roles across state government, including at the DNR and Department of Corrections. My last job in the Doyle administration was serving as the Governor’s chief legal counsel. I had the opportunity to work on important issues that would benefit thousands of Wisconsin citizens, including setting up the legal defense for the domestic partnership law to ensure it would survive a legal challenge even after Governor Doyle left office.

Yes, that is when I met you! You hired our partner Lester Pines and me to represent the State in court. That was our first collaboration. Why did you leave state service and go into private practice?  

When Governor Doyle’s second term ended, I wanted to continue serving the public interest. I didn’t feel I could do that under the new administration. I knew Pines Bach had a great reputation for being a professional and progressive firm, and I hoped I could continue to advance the interests of the public there. Sure enough, we’ve been front-and-center in numerous cases involving key interests for Wisconsin citizens.

Well, I hate to see you leave our firm, but you will be a fantastic judge. I hope all of our readers get out to vote for you on April 3! 

Tamara B. Packard has been practicing law for more than 20 years, primarily in civil litigation and appeals, emphasizing employee rights and civil rights law. She is a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America. Tamara was named the Best Lawyers® 2017 “Lawyer of the Year” for Madison, for “Appellate Practice,” Best Lawyers® 2016 “Lawyer of the Year” for Madison for “Employment Law-Individuals,” and a 2017 Leader in the Law by the Wisconsin Law Journal.  She was recently named by Super Lawyers to be in the top 25 female lawyers in the state, and in the top 25 Madison lawyers.