Shortly after Sandy A. Williams joined the Ozaukee County district attorney’s office in 1983, she was introduced to a local judge for the first time.
“The first question he asked me was, ‘Why aren’t you out looking for a husband?’” she said.
Williams told the judge, “I thought this job would be more challenging.”
That turned out to be an accurate prediction. Williams married her husband Mark only five years later. But she spent 26 years in the D.A.’s office (the last 22 as the county’s first elected female district attorney), prosecuting criminals and working with their victims.
“It’s a hard job because you deal with some serious issues,” she said. “You [need] to serve justice, assist the community and help victims. It’s just all of it together.”
“I always thought I would just be there for two or three years, get some trial experience and then move on,” Williams said. “But I forgot the move on part.”
Williams was hired as a prosecutor right out of Hamline University Law School at a time when it was rare for a woman, let alone one with minimal experience, to land a job in a line of work dominated by men.
Early on, she was told by a court staff member that she should wear skirts to court instead of pant suits.
Williams objected, asking, “Why would anyone be looking at my legs and not listening to my arguments?”
Fortunately, times have changed. On June 1, Williams, 50, left behind her career as an advocate to become the first female judge in Ozaukee County.
She was elected this spring to the Branch III circuit court seat and will begin her six-year term two months early because her predecessor, Judge Joseph D. McCormack, retired in February.
Williams said she decided to run because after more than two decades of appearing before the court, she wanted to finally become a part of it, and the retirement of McCormack presented the opportunity.
“I said to myself, ‘I could try and do that,” said Williams.
It was the county’s first contested judicial race in 30 years. Williams survived the primary and then defeated county court commissioner Darcy E. McManus in the general election on April 7.
Though she is ready to apply her experience to her new career as a judge, Williams said she will miss the intimate interactions with crime victims she had as a district attorney.
She recalled a recent case in which she successfully prosecuted a man for sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl.
“I was doing trial prep with the girl and I explained how things were going to go,” Williams said. “She was a little nervous so she asked if she could call me ‘Sandarella’ and I told her that was fine, if I could call her ‘Janearella’.
“When the court day came I was walking her up to the witness stand and her shoe fell off, but she kept going and sat down. So I picked up the shoe and helped her put it on, and of course all that was going through my mind was Cinderella and her glass slipper.”