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Ashley shares lessons learned

Not long after Judge Carl Ashley took the bench, he was at a church festival when a man approached saying the judge had sent him to prison.

“He said to me, ‘You helped change my life. I really appreciate how you treated me. You treated me fairly,’” said Ashley, who now is a 13-year veteran judge.

Ashley has often encountered people in the community who have been in his court. And that man’s comments 13 years ago about fairness are typical, Ashley said.

Since that encounter, Ashley has rotated through almost every docket in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court system.

But what stands out to him, he said, is domestic violence court.

The prevailing wisdom when he first got the assignment was that victims are enablers and batterers need anger management, Ashley said. Then he went to training and learned that, by the time a case reaches court, the victim has likely tried to escape the situation several times, and those attempts to leave are the most dangerous points.

“It taught me as a judge that you cannot assume that you understand the dynamics of issues or problems,” he said. “When you’re doing something new, you’ve got to get the training and study the research.”

Ashley has since taught judges nationwide and is a frequent public speaker on domestic violence. He’s done much of that concurrent with long-term service on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Planning and Policy Advisory Committee, and as chairman of the Effective Justice Strategies Subcommittee.

Under his leadership, the subcommittee expanded the number of Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils statewide, from just a handful to about four dozen. With coordinating councils, the varying stakeholders come together to craft policies and procedures to improve the justice system and cut down on recidivism.

Fairness and a willingness to learn and share those lessons is a sign of someone at the top of his profession, said Judge Jeffrey Kremers, one of Ashley’s colleagues.

“A good judge is someone who takes the time to learn what’s really going on in cases, from all perspectives, and then structures a sentence that uses the most current research on how to address the various facets,” Kremers said.

“A great judge not only does that himself, but also teaches and mentors other judges. That would be Carl.”


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