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Judge Moria Krueger to retire

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Judge Moria Krueger

Scandal, survival and success.

The judicial career of Moria Krueger contains elements often found on the silver screen and after 29 years on the bench, she is about to get a Hollywood ending.

The current Dane County Circuit Court judge recently announced her retirement, effective Feb. 2, 2007.

“I keep telling people it’s because my youngest son finally got a job and until he did, I never thought I’d be able to retire,” joked Krueger, during a recent interview. “More seriously, it’s been a privilege to have had this job, but I’m getting a little tired and it’s just not as fun as it used to be.”

Setting the Standard

Krueger, 62, is certainly entitled to slow down after participating in three decades of judicial evolution in Wisconsin.

She became a media magnet in 1977, during and after the first judicial recall election in state history. Amid public outcry, Dane County Judge Archie Simonson was voted out of office for insensitive remarks he made about the victim at a rape trial he had presided over.

Krueger won the election for Simonson’s seat and became the first female judge in Dane County, a distinction not without its aggravations.

“There was lots of hoopla surrounding that campaign and the media portrayed it as a battle of the sexes, which it really wasn’t,” said Krueger who defeated four male candidates, including Simonson in the election. “I think the people took a look at what they wanted a judge to represent and decided that just because a person has a black robe on, they can’t say whatever they want.”

Collective recognition of that belief thrust Krueger into the spotlight and though her dedication to justice always came first, she realized the cultural impact her profile had.

“The gender issue was important, because it was important,” said Krueger. “I was the only female trial judge in the state at the time and now there are 30 or 40. It just wasn’t something that was done back then and I’d like to think I made a difference.”

Female judgeships were such an anomaly at the time that Krueger recalled re-quests to perform wedding ceremonies purely for the novelty.

“She is certainly recognized as a trailblazer and definitely a role model not only for judges, but lawyers as well,” said Marta T. Meyers, President-Elect of the Dane County Bar Association.

Dane County Chief Judge Michael N. Nowakowski echoed the sentiments and praised his judicial colleague for her extensive contributions.

“Judge Krueger has been an excellent judge with a great intellect,” Nowakowski said. “Her dedication to children through her many years presiding in juvenile court will be her legacy, but her other contributions to the court system should not be forgotten.”

Family First

While Krueger has rotated through the circuit courts, she has a deep affinity for the family and juvenile divisions, in which she is currently serving.

“She always brings the children into the courtroom, even though they are not physically there,” said Meyers, a divorce attorney at Boardman Suhr Curry & Field, LLP. “They may not be in the room, but they are certainly in her mind.”

Dating back to her days as a juvenile defender in the early ’70s, Krueger has been committed to keeping children in the forefront of civil law. She was the primary drafter of the 1978 revision to the Children’s Code and a founder of the Juvenile Rights Section of the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union.

More recently, Krueger helped create the Family Court Assistance Center in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin Law School.

The program, which began in 2004, was designed to aid underrepresented litigants of the Family Law system. Current law students spend a couple of days a week at the courthouse helping with family case resolution.

“It’s been a tremendous success and we’ve worked with almost 700 people,” s
aid co-creator Marsha Mansfield. “We’ve had a lot of support from judges and faculty at the law school.

Part of the Solution

Krueger’s affection for family law has been tested with the substantial increase in pro se litigation and limited court capabilities to provide assistance.

"One of the most distressing things I’ve seen is the explosion in pro se litigation and it creates such a strain on judges," said Krueger.

Organization and preparation by litigants are two areas that Krueger indicated need attention.

"I know she has been frustrated, as a judge, that the needs of litigants aren’t always met in regards to pro se work and her primary concern is that the children will be the ones neglected," said Mansfield.

Krueger expressed her sympathy for those who cannot afford to properly represent themselves. She has had to restrain herself from offering lawyerly advice from the bench.

She has also encountered those who have abused the process and expect a judge to do all the work for them.

"I had a couple who represented themselves in a divorce proceeding and each brought home about $12,000 a month," said Krueger. "They asked me what I thought about something, and I said pay me $500 an hour and I’ll tell you."

Doing It Her Way

While Krueger has shown her people in her courtroom compassion, she has also been uncompromising in her convictions, a combination that has earned respect.

"She is not known for being warm and fuzzy, but has always been known to be fair," said Meyers. "She is really the epitome of what a judge should be."

Krueger admits that time has taken its toll and she wants to retire before she "starts to sound too much like Judge Judy."

"I’ve been lucky because I’ve not really had to compromise my principles," said Krueger. "Not many people have that luxury."

She also announced her departure early so that her replacement will have ample time to adjust, although an appointment by the governor will only last until the winner of the April election takes the bench.

Nowakowski was hopeful that an appointment would be made in December so there would be no vacancy and the new judge would enjoy a smooth transition.

Krueger’s successor is all but guaranteed an easier start that she had, but whoever it is will have quite a reputation to live up to.

"I’d like to think that win or lose, everyone was heard in my courtroom," said Krueger. "Ultimately, a judge is a public servant and hopefully I’ve remembered that more than I forgot it over the years."

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