Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Decision 2018: Two seek Eau Claire County's Branch 5 seat

Harless and Murphy point out their strengths to voters

  • harless-sarah-060717

    Sarah Harless

    Contributed photo

  • Murphy-Shaughnessy-031418-1

    Shaughnessy Murphy

    Contributed photo

Shaughnessy Murphy and Sarah Harless share one thing in common in their quest to be elected to a six-year term as Eau Claire County’s Branch 5 judge.

They both want to make Eau Claire County a safe and better place to live.

“It’s pretty simple,” Murphy said of his desire to continue serving as a judge.

“I grew up here. As a kid in this community, safety was the last thing on my mind. And as the father of two young boys, I want them to have that same opportunity for safety,” he said.

Eau Claire has a lot going for it with a strong school system and a revitalized downtown area, Murphy said.

“People I went to high school with are coming back to town and I find that exciting,” he said.

Before she went to law school, Harless volunteered at a domestic violence shelter. She found that many of the women there had pressing legal concerns.

“And that’s what inspired me to go to law school,” she said.

After law school, Harless worked for Judicare and served as a clerk for the District 3 Court of Appeals in Wausau.

Harless then joined Herrick & Hart and later Hertel Law in Eau Claire to practice criminal and civil litigation. She gravitated more toward criminal defense work because she enjoyed working in a courtroom.

“That gave me the inspiration to see what a difference a good and caring judge can have,” Harless said.

She’s also an advocate for Eau Claire’s drug, mental health, veterans and women’s treatment courts.

“They’ve made a huge difference on my clients,” Harless said of the treatment courts.

Murphy, who also is an advocate of the treatment courts, has assisted with the veterans court.

“I’m very happy to be a part of that,” he said.

Judge Paul Lenz resigned from the Branch 5 seat last year and Gov. Scott Walker appointed Murphy to the position.

Murphy was an attorney at the Eau Claire office of the Wausau-based law firm of Ruder Ware. Before working in private practice, he served as a senior leadership aide in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Murphy said he has the ability to understand where all parties in a courtroom are coming from, and then make a just decision that is supported by the law.

“One of my strengths is my ability to be a good listener,” he said. “People in the courtroom want to be heard.”

Harless said her top strength is the nine years she worked as a trial attorney and the time she spent as a law clerk with the Court of Appeals.

About 85 percent of a judge’s workload is in criminal and family law. Harless said she has considerable experience in those areas and has represented clients in jury trials.

“You only gain that by being in a courtroom,” she said.

Harless said her volunteer work for various boards of directors in Eau Claire is also a strength.

“I have been active and I believe that is important,” she said. “A judge should be committed to the community and involved in the community.”

If elected April 3, both Murphy and Harless share what lawyers, defendants, plaintiffs and visitors to their courtroom can expect.

“I try to be very engaging, personable and respectful. You shouldn’t expect to have any surprises. I try to be a straight shooter,” Murphy said.

“What they’ll get is someone who is personable, someone who cares and someone who will be fair,” he said.

People “can expect a courtroom where they are heard, and everybody who steps in the courtroom is treated with dignity and fairness,” Harless said.

“Everybody deserves to feel they have a fair shake,” she said. “It may be routine for the judge, but it’s in no way routine for the people standing in front of them.”

Murphy and Harless both say they’ve earned the support of voters.

“I think I’m doing a great job and I have experience that reflects the community,” Murphy said.

“Based on my track record, I’m fair and tough on people who violate the law,” he said.

In criminal cases, defendants usually require a combination of needing help, an opportunity to succeed and punishment, Murphy said.

“Those are the three buckets I boil each situation down to,” he said. “If you need an opportunity, I’ll give you an opportunity.”

Harless said she has the broad range of experience needed to be an effective judge.

“I have shown through my work that I am truly committed to the community. What a judge does and can do makes such an impact on a community,” she said.

“I would just like to see more people go to the polls,” Harless said. “These local elections are so important for peoples’ day-to-day lives.”

Contact: 715-833-9207," target="_blank">


Shaughnessy Murphy

Age: 34.

Address: Eau Claire.

Political experience: None.

Occupation: Eau Claire County circuit court judge.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in finance and economics from UW-Eau Claire in 2006; law degree from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2010.

Family: Married, two children.



Sarah Harless

Age: 40.

Address: Eau Claire.

Political experience: None.

Occupation: Private practice attorney.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western Washington University in 2000; law degree from Rutgers University School of Law in 2004.

Family: Married, two children.


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