Russell sworn in
Long-time Merrill attorney, Rob Russell took a new step on his career path Friday as he was sworn into office as Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge.
Administering the oath of office was Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Bradley said a judge’s job is both rewarding and challenging.
“What a gift it is to be able to touch the lives of people the way circuit court judges do,” she said. “Our job is to be instruments of justice.
“It is obvious to me that you are grounded by a loving family and surrounded by judicial colleagues and a supportive community,” Bradley told Russell. “All of us will be the wind beneath your wings.”
The investiture ceremony was attended by 14 current or retired judges, along with a packed courtroom of Russell’s family, friends and colleagues.
Rob’s cousin, Sister Ann Wittman, provided the invocation and his brother, Paul Russell, said Rob will serve the county well.
“You’re getting an individual that is honest to the core, somebody that will do good unto others, and has an incredible sense of integrity,” Paul said.
Retired Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Michael Nolan noted that Rob’s roots go back to the Fred Smith, the first non-native boy child born in Merrill. Rob’s great-grandfather, Smith became a prominent Merrill lawyer and civic leader.
“There is a strong, unbroken line of county roots, civic responsibility and leadership,” Nolan said. “Rob Russell will continue to take his place in that long line.”
Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Jay Tlusty welcomed Rob to the bench. Tlusty had been a partner in Rob’s father’s law firm prior to be elected judge. Rob’s father, George Russell, who practiced law in Merrill for over 50 years, passed away in 2012.
“Your dad would be very proud of you today,” Tlusty said.
He also offered some advice to the new judge.
“As a trial judge it is your job to determine what the facts of the case are and to apply the law in a very prompt manner. That allows the litigants to move forward with their lives, whether or not they like your decision,” Tlusty said. “Do the best you can, knowing you’re not always going to make everyone happy.”
Rob also spoke of his father, and the advice he would give.
“The first thing he would tell me is, ‘You won the election, but it was pretty darn close. In time, you’ll have to earn that respect and confidence from the people’,” Rob said.
George Russell would also have admonished his son to not “let the robe go to your head,” Rob said. “Make sure you treat everyone with respect in the courtroom. Your time is no more valuable that their time. I will follow that advice.”
Rob, who was elected in April, started his term as judge on Aug. 1. He spent about a month being mentored by other judges in the 9th Judicial District and attended a one-week judicial college before taking the bench on his own Sept. 5.
“I’ve been all over the district,” Russell said. “I felt the mentoring process was very helpful.”
As an attorney, Rob followed in the footsteps of his father, who founded the Russell Law Office in Merrill and practiced for over 50 years. Rob joined his father at the law office in 1992, taking over the office as George retired.
Rob closed the office in August as he took on his new role as judge. Closing the office his father had founded was “bittersweet,” Rob said. “My dad absolutely loved practicing law, and I knew how much that office meant to him. It was sad to see the end of the firm.”
The office’s legal secretaries were all ready to retire, which made Rob’s decision easier.
“When I closed the office, I had three secretaries, two of them go way back to my dad’s early years,” he said.
Rob began thinking about running for judge after Tlusty was elected to the Lincoln County Circuit Court bench nine years ago. By that time, Rob had taken over his father’s role of general legal practice with the law office.
“I missed the courtroom,” Rob said.
When Judge Glenn Hartley announced he was retiring in 2012, Rob threw his hat into the ring for the gubernatorial appointment of a successor. The appointment went to John Yackel, but Rob immediately announced he would run for the office in the April 2013 election.
“It was an opportunity to advance my career,” Rob said. “I felt I’d reached the experience level that I would be an effective judge.”
Rob won a close election over Yackel, who is now a prosecutor with the Sawyer County District Attorney’s office.
Rob takes the responsibility of being a judge seriously.
“You’re making very difficult decisions that affect people potentially for the rest of their lives,” he said, “and they expect the judge to make those decisions. I would hope that, even if they don’t agree with the decision, they know it was a fair decision.”
Rob got a taste of making difficult decisions as Lincoln County Family Court Commissioner, where he presided over temporary hearings in divorce matters and made decisions regarding custody, child support, property division, and other family law-related matters.
Rob said he hopes to retire as Lincoln County Circuit Court judge.