Vilas County Clerk Kim Olkowski swore in Judge Martha Milanowski for her first elected term Monday morning. Milanowski then swore in new court reporter Patricia King, then Judge 2 Daniel Overbey. —Staff Photo By MICHELLE DREW
Vilas County Clerk Kim Olkowski swore in Judge Martha Milanowski for her first elected term Monday morning. Milanowski then swore in new court reporter Patricia King, then Judge 2 Daniel Overbey. —Staff Photo By MICHELLE DREW
Daniel Overbey was officially sworn in as the first ever Judge 2 of Vilas County Circuit Court early Monday morning.

The much-needed position has been a long time coming, and now that it has been filled will alleviate some of the pressure on Judge 1 Martha Milanowski.

The Director of State Courts approved the second judge seat in Vilas County in June 2021. The county sought a second circuit court judge in 2017 but was turned down.

“For years, we have been rated by the state as needing two judges, but we only had one,” Overbey said. “Now, we will finally have two. This means that cases — both civil and criminal — can move through the system faster. There is truth to the old adage that, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’.”

According to Milanowski, the second branch will increase access to the courts and should result in getting cases resolved more expediently.

“Currently with one judge, the workload is extremely demanding with little time left to devote to non-case-related tasks such as court policy and diversion programming,” she said. “With a second judge, both judges will now have some built-in time to handle those matters in addition to our individual caseload.”

Milanowski added that both judges will be able to work with the county board and criminal justice system partners toward the creation of a treatment court and pre-trial services, both of which are aimed at working toward reducing recidivism and addressing underlying issues, such as substance use disorder and mental health.

One of Overbey’s initial goals is to dispose of the backlog of cases. He stated that some of his long-term goals include working in tandem with Milanowski to expand services, including implementing a county-wide drug treatment court and offering more services to area veterans.

Milanowski is on board with that plan and enthused to work toward the common goal.

“I’m also excited about the work we’ve been doing toward the establishment of a treatment court in Vilas County. To that end, I’ve been heading up an effort to create a Criminal Justice Collaborating Council, which ultimately requires county board approval,” she said. “It’s a real challenge to attend meetings where court policy/issues are discussed, given my present court calendar.

“With two judges, I expect there will be more time to work on court policy and infrastructure. I look forward to having meaningful conversations with the county board and all of our system partners about how we can improve our court system,” Milanowski said.

Overbey expressed his excitement to take on the challenges of the new position.

“The biggest challenges are also the most exciting things about a newly-created branch. It’s a clean slate,” he said. “We are starting from scratch with new staff and new ideas. We have a great team with Judge Milanowski, District Attorney Karl Hayes, and Clerk of Courts Beth Soltow, and we are working together to better serve the citizens of Vilas County.”

Milanowski also is looking forward to having a colleague to share ideas.

“The creation of Branch 2 not only makes my caseload much more manageable, it also means I now have a colleague right down the hall to collaborate with on court policy and other issues we both will face on the bench,” she said.

“In a one-judge county, the judge has no one to talk to or consult with in their own courthouse. That isolation has led me to making great connections with judges throughout the state in my first 10 months on the bench. While those connections will undoubtedly continue to grow, I’m really excited to be a part of a two-judge county going forward and to working with Judge Overbey.”

The second judgeship also gives Milanowski more time to prepare for her cases on a daily basis.

“I’ll have more time to do my job well and devote the time that is necessary on each and every case, something I strive to do — but now there might even be a little breathing room in between!” she added.



Experience

Overbey, who has lived and worked in Vilas County for many years, is no stranger to the courtroom and brings much experience to the new position.

After graduating cum laude from Notre Dame University Law School in 1998, he went to work for a large firm in Chicago where he practiced white collar criminal defense and product liability defense.

Prior to going to law school, he was a sergeant with the Daytona Beach Police Department. In his 15 years in law enforcement, he worked in patrol, administration, the detective bureau, and ran the Special Response Unit.

Overbey also represented clients and children across the North Woods both as an attorney and a guardian ad litem. As a result, he has considerable experience not just with divorce and paternity cases, but guardianship, both child and juveniles in need of protection and/or services, adoption and more.

For the past five years, Overbey has been a Vilas County Court Commissioner. In the judge’s absence, he presided over criminal, juvenile, guardianship and other matters including criminal intake, traffic court, bond hearings, commitment hearings, protective placement and initial appearances. He also reviewed and approved search warrants and temporary restraining orders.

He defeated opponent Meg O’Marro in the April 5 election to win the position of Judge 2. His six-year term will end July 31, 2028.



Courthouse upgrades


Ongoing construction projects also wrapped up last week which included fully upgrading the audio-visual equipment in Courtroom 1 along with a full chamber remodel. Other projects included the addition of a new hearing room, and new security cameras also were added.

That means that after only 10 months as Judge 1, Milanowski has seen a plethora of changes.

“The months have flown by since I took the bench last October. During that time, the Branch 1 Judicial Suite has been remodeled, along with a significant audio-visual upgrade in the courtroom, and a new hearing room has been created.

She noted the return of in-person court hearings, although Zoom hearings are still available on a case-by-case basis. Jury trials also have resumed after being paused due to Covid.

“While I’ve worked in the Vilas County Courthouse for over two decades and have spent countless hours in court, I’ve learned now, first hand, that the circuit court functions as the result of a massive team effort,” Milanowski said.

“The court could not function without the dedicated individuals I work with each and every day — my court reporter, my judicial assistant, the clerk of court and her staff, the register in probate, and all the attorneys and litigants who bring their cases to court in a respectful and prepared manner.

“It is an honor to serve the public with this team, to come to work each day knowing we are here for a common purpose, to better our community with the work we do and the services we provide. Judge Overbey brings unique experience to the bench and will undoubtedly make the team that much stronger as he takes the bench in Branch 2. I look forward to working with him,” Milanowski said.

Overbey’s official investiture ceremony will be held Friday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. in Branch 1 of the Vilas County Courthouse. The event is open to the public.