Author’s Disclosure: I met Judge Gabler six months ago at a community event for 15 minutes – we had a polite conversation regarding law and politics. We’ve also briefly spoken on Facebook for another 15 minutes. I am in no way affiliated with his campaign sans the stated 30 minutes. Judge Gabler’s statements and sentiments have been reconstructed in good faith from pen and paper notes.
Time waits for no man. Even though in person voting has been seriously curtailed due to the recent outbreak, the election remains scheduled for April 7th. One of the men on the ballot is Judge Dan Gabler, a soft spoken man that is energetic and passionate for the law. Had I not known his age I would easily peg him for 30 years old. He has not lost the spark for life. I had the pleasure of interviewing him earlier this week:
When / why did you know you wanted to be a lawyer / judge?
My college hosted a model UN team – we went to conferences and traveled across the country – it was my introduction to politics and people coming together to improve the world. Even Ivy League people were only as smart as us average college kids. We all worked together to solve problems and work for the common good.
What were the hardest parts of law school / BAR exam?
Gosh, that was almost 30 years ago. Just developing an Iron Butt. It’s tiring work sitting at a desk all day and pouring over law books and class notes. It would have fatigued librarians. After that, it’s developing the commitment to follow through with your education – exercise your will to follow through.
What’s your judicial philosophy? What makes you get out of bed and put your gavel in the holster?
My philosophy has always come from a place of compassion and accountability. I want to understand the trauma that people in my court face. It doesn’t excuse what they’ve done but it helps me put my hand on their shoulder, point out to the horizon and nudge them forward towards a more pro-social life. More judges need to tell people “life gave you a sack of lemons – it’s your job to make lemonade” we can be compassionate and have rule of law. I want to help them lead better lives – so many Americans take for granted getting adriver’s license, graduating high school, getting a good job. As a judge I make it a point to address little things they’ve accomplished to improve their situation. I compliment them for making up with family and friends, getting into a GED class, obtaining a learner’s permit. These little things snowball. These seemingly minor achievements turn anti-social choices into positive habits, and ultimately people who become productive members of society.
My website says it best “My legal career further demonstrates a proven track record of protecting the rights and interests of families and children … defending the rights of victims of crimes and defendants alike.” It’s not some campaign slogan. I live it. Every day I preside over cases relating to general crimes and make decisions that are based upon the laws as passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. My job as a judge is to apply the law as it exists, explaining to defendant and victim alike why I am ruling as I am. Though parties to a case may not always agree with my decision, my goal is to explain the basis of the decision so that they understand why I ruled as I did. Understanding breeds acceptance, which in turn gives rise to an orderly society.
Do you have any regrets? Cases you wish you could re-adjudicate / fight again?
The only regrets I have are being limited with information when I served as a prosecutor. I’ve learned things after the fact that would have made me reconsider or readjust sentencing. Both more and less in intensity. Other than that I’ve walked into court every day of my life and zealously advocated for the truth.
Why are you running for reelection? Why should the people of Milwaukee reelect you in a landslide?
I want to promote the fair and just application of the law. It’s not my job to substitute my personal beliefs for the will of legislators in Madison or Washington D.C. There’s a reason why Lady Liberty is blindfolded as she holds the scales of justice: judges are called to weigh the law and the evidence without regard to a person’s age, race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or social / economic standing. In my court, a millionaire is treated the same way as a homeless person. They all have the same, innate dignity. In my courtroom they are all afforded the same level of respect and consideration.
How have you adapted your court to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The Chief Judge for the Milwaukee County Courts has set guidelines on how to prevent the spread of the virus. We’re doing our best to keep Wisconsinites safe. We’ve -temporarily- ended jury trials (scheduling them further out), reduced the number of judges hearing new / ongoing criminal cases from 20 courts to three. I’m confident that if we all do our part, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and the United States will emerge even stronger.
Was there anything I missed?
You forgot to say how good looking I am, haha. (Author’s note: This interview took place over the phone) But seriously – I’m an active member of the community. I’ve been working for decades helping people to become the best versions of themselves. Before I entered the field of law, I worked in retail management for Boston Store. To this day I carry the same sense of customer service into my court room. I tell my court staff that Branch 29 is in the customer service business. Defendants are our customers, as well as lawyers, victims, witnesses, police officers, and jurors. If you’re interested in learning more, I have a website (https://judgedangabler.com/). I hope you, the people of Milwaukee County, see fit to send me back to continue the fight for the rights and interests of all residents of Milwaukee County as judge.