Marathon County Judge Jill N. Falstad retires, leaving legacy of supporting victims
MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) - Marathon County Judge Jill N. Falstad is retiring after more than 30 years of service to the county. She served as an Assistant District Attorney, before becoming District Attorney from 1994 to 2009.
Wednesday, she was honored by the state for her decades of service and by women’s advocates for her work supporting victims. Several people who had seen Falstad’s career from start to finish, as well as current D.A. Theresa Wetzsteon, paid tribute to her career.
Speakers said Judge Falstad will be remembered for pouring over research into each case and treating each victim in her courtroom with dignity.
"It really was a passion of mine to work with victims. I also saw courage and strength and that gave me the courage and strength to do everything I could to support them," she said.
She helped create one of the state’s only Domestic Violence Compliance Courts. It holds abusers accountable after they’re convicted. She was honored for her dedication to supporting victims.
"You're human, you're emotional, you connect with that person, and feel their pain and their sadness about what happened," she said, explaining how it is difficult as a judge to work with victims who have suffered abuse.
Supporting victims became central to her values while working on a case back in law school.
“I really felt that I wanted to support the child and the victim, and not the offender. So it just kind of crystallized in my mind the type of work I wanted to do on behalf of victims,” she said.
Judge Falstad prosecuted some of the county's most high-profile cases. Getting justice for the Kunz family stands out to her. Chris Jacobs III was first acquitted on five counts of being party to first-degree murder. He was tried again on different charges and convicted when new evidence came to light.
"We had the opportunity through new evidence to file different and new charges and hold him accountable for what happened with the Kunz family. That second trial really corrected a historical injustice, so I felt that was a powerful outcome to get justice for that family," she said.
Suzanne O’Neill, Deputy Trial Division Director in the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office is set to take over Judge Falstad’s term ending in 2021.
“She let everybody in her courtroom have the opportunity to be heard, she heard every voice and addressed them with the respect that they deserve, and that’s what I hope to do as well,” O’Neill said. “I’m personally very sorry to see her leave. I hope to continue in her footsteps and lead the county as she has.”
Reelected 7 times as D.A., Judge Falstad hopes to leave a legacy of care and dedication.
“I hope the legacy is to really pay attention in court, read everything, think about everything, take the time to make a fair and just decision for whoever you’re dealing with,” she said.
Judge Falstad officially retires on Thursday. She says she plans to spend the summer enjoying time on the water with her family.
Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.