Jessica M. Karmasek Apr. 18, 2013, 3:00pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin on Wednesday announced their agreement to establish the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission, in an effort to move federal judicial nominations in the state forward.

The Wisconsin senators -- Johnson is a Republican, Baldwin a Democrat -- said the commission will advise them on the nomination of individuals to fill the following vacancies:

- The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District and the Western District of Wisconsin, or such other districts as may be established in Wisconsin;

- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which are appropriately considered Wisconsin seats; and

- U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western District of Wisconsin, or such other districts as may be established in Wisconsin.

The commission will consist of six Wisconsin residents who are members of the State Bar.

Three members will be appointed by each senator, who will each have a co-chair on the commission.

Johnson, the senior senator, appointed William Curran, Richard Esenberg and Paul Swanson as commissioners.

Baldwin appointed Michelle Behnke, Frederic Fleishauer and Barbara Zack Quindel.

"I'm very pleased to have been able to work with Sen. Baldwin on a balanced, bipartisan commission to recommend qualified candidates for judicial nominations," Johnson said in a statement Wednesday.

"Wisconsin is a diverse state, and voters have chosen a diverse set of representatives. I have always said that a balanced commission -- one that ensures candidates have support from both sides of the aisle -- is the fairest way to proceed. I'm glad that Sen. Baldwin and I have been able to agree on this bipartisan charter. I look forward to working with her and the President to fill these important judicial vacancies."

Baldwin said she was happy Johnson and she were able to find common ground on such an important issue.

"The filling of judicial vacancies has been a top priority for me since I was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in January," she said. "I am proud to have worked together with Sen. Johnson to put in place a commission and process for moving judicial nominations forward.

"The people of Wisconsin deserve to have these vacancies filled with qualified public servants working for them and our fair and impartial judicial system."

About the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission members:

- Michelle Behnke (co-chair) is a 1988 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School. She established her own firm in 1998 and currently works as a business practitioner. Behnke previously practiced as in-house counsel with CUNA Mutual Insurance Society and at a Madison law firm. Behnke is a past president of the State Bar of Wisconsin and currently serves on the ABA Board of Governors. She has served on a number of boards including the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Madison Development Corporation and SSM Healthcare of Wisconsin.

- William Curran is with Curran, Hollenbeck & Orton SC, in Mauston and Wisconsin Dells. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. He was admitted as a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers in 2001. He is a repeat selection in "Super Lawyers" in commercial litigation. He served on the Governor's Judicial Nominating Council 1987-2001 and 2010-present and on the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission from 2001-08. He was elected to the Board of Governors of the State Bar Association for the nine-county 7th District.

- Richard Esenberg is the founder, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a public interest law firm and legal think tank based in Milwaukee. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor at Marquette University Law School, where he formerly served in the full-time faculty. He holds a J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, and a B.A., summa cum laude, in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

- Frederic Fleishauer graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1973. He served as Portage County Circuit Court judge from 1980 to 2011. He was named "Judge of the Year" by the State Bar of Wisconsin in 2008. Before becoming a judge, Fleishauer served as Portage County District Attorney from 1977 to 1980, and was recently appointed District Attorney to fill an unexpired term in 2012.

- Paul Swanson (co-chair) is a partner in the Oshkosh law firm of Steinhilber, Swanson, Mares, Marone & McDermott. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a major in accounting and his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1979. He is currently the chairman of the Continuing Legal Education Committee for the State Bar of Wisconsin and serves on its Board of Governors. He is a past president of the State Bar Young Lawyers Division, served as treasurer for the term of 1994-95, and has served on the Board of Governors for terms spanning 1987-95 and 2008-13.

- Barbara Zack Quindel practices labor and employment law and is a shareholder in Hawks Quindel S.C. She has been listed consistently in the Best Lawyers in America and was named Milwaukee's 2012 "Lawyer of the Year" in Employment Law-Individuals. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Barbara holds a graduate degree from Harvard University and received her law degree from Northeastern University.

The day before the two Wisconsin senators announced their agreement, columnist Bill Kaplan railed against Johnson, calling him "one of the leading obstructionists" to judicial nominees.

Kaplan used to write a guest column from Washington for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995-2009.

He contends, in his guest column on Tuesday, that Johnson is part of the problem.

Case in point, he says: the nomination of law professor Victoria Nourse.

Nourse, who taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School since 1994, was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2010.

But Johnson "killed" her nomination, Kaplan says.

"(Johnson) used his first speech on the Senate floor to rail against the cloture vote. It was his way or the highway. And, he was prepared to use any Senate rules to stop the Senate in its tracks," Kaplan wrote. "And, he was successful."

Wisconsin isn't the only state to set up such a commission.

On Monday, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Texas Republicans, announced the members of the state's bipartisan Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee.

The committee, composed of Texas attorneys, will screen and recommend to the two senators nominees for vacancies on the federal bench and in U.S. Attorney offices in the state.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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