Ellen Brostrom’s passion for service started with a summer job at a soup kitchen.
During her junior year of college, she volunteered at a Catholic worker soup kitchen for homeless men in Boston. After graduation, she worked there for about nine months, living in and becoming part of the community.
That experience became the cornerstone of her career.
“Whatever faith background you have, this idea of service, this idea of recognizing that each individual has equal dignity and worth, and to act accordingly is a big part of who I am, who I was in college, who I was in that experience,” Brostrom said. “And what I think is fascinating about it is those very same principles are exactly what I apply as a judge.”
Those principles guide Brostrom in her current assignment, which is presiding over Milwaukee County’s drug treatment court, deferred prosecution agreements and veterans treatment court.
“Each of these human beings have equal dignity and worth,” she said. “Each of them have shown up in the community in a way that’s not right, but there are reasons for why they’ve been showing up poorly, and if we could address the reasons, perhaps then, their rehabilitation removes them as any kind of threat to the community. So really, it’s a win-win for community safety and that individual.”
Though Brostrom also dealt with victims in her previous assignments, which included the homicide sexual assault docket and the domestic violence criminal court, the principles remained the same but were applied to victims, often ones that were vulnerable.
Brostrom’s desire to be of service extends past her day job. She is not only involved in the legal community, but she is out in the general community as well, serving on her church’s parish council and on the boards of non-profit organizations.
And she balances all that with a husband and two children.
“You just kind of juggle it all. Thank goodness for cellphones,” she said. “Once my daughter got her driver’s license, that really helped. I’ve had good childcare providers. As a family with two working parents, your childcare provider is a very important part of the team. I have a great extended family. … When things get tough, I know I have that support.”