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Judge Foster has a sound system for the law

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Kathryn Foster (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Looking back at her two dozen years on the Waukesha County Circuit Court bench, Judge Kathryn Foster is most proud of the moments when she has had a positive effect on someone’s life.

One touching moment came when a prior juvenile offender thanked the veteran judge for sending him to Ethan Allen School for Boys in Wales. The thanks came while she was sitting on the civil bench and he was repairing the sound system in her courtroom.

The sound technician asked the court clerk if he could speak with Foster. When she came out of her chambers there was the 20-something man she had sent away years earlier for burglary. She recalled him as a very trying youth who finally forced her decision.

“He thanked me for sending him because he needed it, he said. Now he was engaged, he had a child, and he was working a job,” Foster said. “Best of all, he actually fixed my sound system.”

Another area where Foster has had a positive influence on many lives has come from helping develop the county’s alcohol treatment court. The program started while Foster served as chief judge from 2000 to 2006.

The treatment court targets third-time drunken drivers and utilizes a combination of reduced sentences, judicial supervision and treatment for one year in lieu of lengthier jail sentences.

Now six years old, the treatment court — with more than 200 graduates — has reduced recidivism from an average of 38 percent to only 12 percent.

“That helped me kind of reinvent myself and hopefully keeps me from becoming jaded,” Foster said.

Foster sat down recently to answer some questions:

WLJ: What do you wish lawyers thought about most when appearing before you?
Foster: “That they are informed about the law and the facts as best they can for their clients. I want to know as much as I can about the law and the facts before I make any important decisions about the case.”

WLJ: What is the one thing you do not want to hear in your courtroom?
Foster: “A request for a further proceeding with no reason. I don’t like having hearings to schedule new hearings.”

WLJ: What is your favorite part of being a judge?
Foster: “Having the best seat at jury trials. I enjoy watching good lawyering and the whole judicial process.”

WLJ: What was the best thing you learned in law school?
“In law school, when I was reading cases, I always felt that I didn’t have all the facts – just the ones important to the appeal. What I learned was that I always wanted to know as much about the practical issues in the case as well as the legal issues.”

WLJ: What is your favorite book and why?
Foster: “Other than the Bible, which should be a standard answer for any Christian, there are lots. I love [James] Michener and Leon Uris. I love anything that is historical fiction. Something I read most recently was ‘A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.’ ”

WLJ: What song is on heavy rotation on your iPod?
Foster: “Anything by Adele.”

WLJ: If you could be a superhero, who would it be and why?
Foster: “I suppose the Bionic Woman. As I’m aging, I’d like to be able to do more gardening and my body is reminding me I’m getting older and I can’t do all the things I did in the past.”

WLJ: What can you spend hours doing that’s not law-related?
Foster: “Reading, gardening, and watching sporting events.”

WLJ: What famous person you would most like to have a drink with?
Foster: “Bart Starr. I’m a Packers fan from way back and he’s been one of my heroes.”

WLJ: What is the one luxury item you cannot live without?
Foster: “Probably my iPhone.”

WLJ: What was your first concert?
Foster: “Cat Stevens at the PAC [Performing Arts Center].”

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