As a longtime employee working in the federal court system in Milwaukee, Kris Wrobel is constantly called to stay on top of emerging situations and think on her feet.
No more so than when she was working for the bankruptcy court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and had to deal with a debtor who became irate after learning that part of his inheritance from his recently deceased mother might have to be divided up among creditors. Even though the incident happened nearly five years ago, Wrobel remembers the look on the man’s face clearly.
“You could just see the wheels turning,” Wrobel said.
When there was a break in the proceedings and Wrobel saw the debtor start to pursue the trustee overseeing the case into a corridor, she came to a quick decision. She intervened as fast as she could and managed to direct the trustee into a nearby conference room before the debtor could reach him.
U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Pepper credits Wrobel for diffusing the situation before it turned into something worse. Thinking back to what she said after the altercation was over, Pepper recalled: “I thanked Kris, but urged her not to take that particular duty on herself in future.”
Luckily for Wrobel, such excitement is an anomaly in her job. Most of her work now as a courtroom deputy in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin involves making sure that judicial procedures are followed to a “T.”
As courtroom deputy, Wrobel is also essentially the public face of the court. It’s her job to tell a judge when someone isn’t going to show up to court or will be late, or when a defendant hasn’t been dressed in civilian clothes. Wrobel is also generally responsible for keeping proceedings on schedule.
None of it makes for easy work – especially since no two judges want or expect things to be done in exactly the same way. Still, it’s a job she not only enjoys but also believes makes a difference.
“With Judge Pepper specifically, I see a lot of these defendants where nobody has ever cared for them and they say, ‘You are the first person who has said she ever has believed in me,’” Wrobel said.
It was with Judge Pepper that Wrobel made the move from federal bankruptcy court to the U.S. District Court in 2014. Both say the change wasn’t easy.
“It is hard to leave an environment where you know your job backward and forward, and to start anew in an alien world,” Pepper said. “But almost three years in, she is just as indispensable in the district courts role as she was in bankruptcy court.”
Outside the office, Wrobel, a native of Milwaukee, enjoys spending time with her 24-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son. She and her husband, Curt, recently became empty nesters, meaning they will have to find something to do with their newly acquired free time.
“It will probably be reading a book and relaxing,” Wrobel said.