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Public service gratifying for Kuhnmuench

By: Jane Pribek//February 16, 2011//

Public service gratifying for Kuhnmuench

By: Jane Pribek//February 16, 2011//

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Hon. Mary M. Kuhnmuench – Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Photo by Kevin Harnack
Photo by Kevin Harnack

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Mary M. Kuhnmuench recently had the pleasure of attending the swearing-in of a new assistant district attorney, Cynthia M. Davis.

She’s known Davis since Davis clerked in her courtroom as a law student six years ago. Kuhnmuench, a past recipient of the Association for Women Lawyers’ Mentor of the Year Award, has watched Davis become a talented lawyer, offering her guidance and support along the way. Davis has pursued a number of excellent opportunities since her graduation, including a Wisconsin Supreme Court clerkship and an associate position with Foley & Lardner.

Davis’ desire to return to public service is extremely gratifying to Kuhnmuench, who’s inspired by her mentee’s desire to try to change the world, one case at a time, in the public sector.

Those same feelings are what led Kuhnmuench to pursue a legal career and ultimately a judgeship.

Growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, she witnessed wide-reaching social change. She took these words by Robert Kennedy to heart:  “It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task.”

A year after Kuhnmuench was first elected in 1998, Judge Jeffrey A. Kremers asked her to sit in one of three federally-funded domestic violence courts being created in Milwaukee County. She jumped at the chance.

After almost a dozen years on the bench, Kuhnmuench has served in several other divisions, but has returned to the domestic violence court, where she is now presiding judge. She speaks publicly on domestic violence prevention as often as she can.

Although the federal funding has evaporated, local leaders have found ways to keep the courts operating. Countless other jurisdictions have used Milwaukee’s success in the pilot program as blueprints for their own domestic violence courts.

“It demonstrates to the community that the local justice system is committed to ending the cycle of violence that is present in far too many families, by designating these three courts,” Kuhnmuench said. Almost daily, victims and defendants tell her the system is working and their lives are on a better path.

“As a trial court judge, you see life on the front lines. You get to see it at its messiest — the really terrible situations some people find themselves in. I as the judge have the opportunity through my words or demeanor to provide some modicum of justice, peace or healing. I can’t think of a greater privilege than that, or a more rewarding career.”

She is married to attorney John R. Kuhnmuench Jr. They have five sons and two grandsons.

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