By Steve Schuster
Milwaukee non-profit attorney Molly Gena defeated Sen. Lena Taylor in the Milwaukee Municipal Court Branch 2 race April 4. Tuesday’s win for Gena will make her a judge for the first time in her 15-year legal career.
“Tonight, we celebrate a victory not just for our campaign, but for the people of Milwaukee and the vision of a more accessible, equitable, and fair judicial system,” Gena tweeted on April 4.
Gena also issued a statement.
“I am deeply humbled by the trust and support of the people of Milwaukee. This victory is not just about me; it’s about all of us working together to create a more accessible and fair judicial system. I want to thank my family, our incredible volunteers, and each and every person who voted for me for making this possible,” Gena said.
Gena also made a statement to Taylor.
“I want to extend my gratitude to Sen. Lena Taylor for her tireless work in the legislature, especially on court reform. I am excited to work with her in the future to continue making progress on these important issues,” Gena said.
Municipal Court judges serve four-year terms and handle non-criminal cases including, moving violations, parking citations, and ordinance violations. Since Wisconsin is the only state in the entire country where a first-time conviction for drunk driving is not a crime, Municipal Court judges also handle first time drunk driving offenses.
As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Gena said she wanted to become the next Branch 2 judge because “I want to serve the city of Milwaukee that I love.”
Gena said she would make it a priority to ensure public safety and hold people fully accountable, including for reckless driving.
Gena said she is a proponent of community service and court accessibility.
Gena said, “Access to justice is incredibly important, noting that some people don’t realize that the court can order community service. (As a defense attorney) we ask for that frequently. It’s very effective and reduces fines.”
“Punishing people through non-payment sanctions only creates more problems for the city,” Gena said.
Gena said she wants to give a voice to the voiceless. “Even if it doesn’t go their way, I want them to feel like they were heard,” she said.
Gena vows to keep politics out of courtroom and says she would increase time on bench by extending courtroom hours to reduce backlog. Gena also said she would speed up the time it takes for defendants to be seen by the court.
“I think part of holding people accountable … is to bring them into court sooner, Gena said.”
Gena also said that the role of the court should not be revenue generation.
“I do not think the court is meant to bring in revenue. It’s not a fundraising apparatus, “Gena said.
Gena praised the new city leaders in Milwaukee, but noted there are still challenges ahead.
“The poverty and segregation in our city still remains a challenge,” Gena said noting that “right now the majority of the people getting tickets are people of color. They have tickets stacked against them for minor traffic stops.”
Gena also empathized with law enforcement officials who she said need to spend less time in court and more time on the streets.
“I’ve watched officers sit there all morning only to learn their trial isn’t happening that morning. I would want to run the whole court more efficiently, get through cases faster and get people out who don’t need to be sitting there waiting their mornings,” Gena added.
Gena currently is the managing attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where she advocates to remove barriers to justice for those who would otherwise not afford legal representation. Previously, Gena worked at the Center for Driver’s License Recovery and Employability, a partnership between Wisconsin Community Services, LAW, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and the city of Milwaukee. Gena has practiced in more than 45 different municipal courts and over 23 different circuit courts across Wisconsin.
Gena also serves on the advisory board of the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, the Milwaukee chapter board of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Constitution Society, has volunteered with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection coalition and the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation, and has worked as a city of Milwaukee poll worker since 2016, according to her website.
Gena has dedicated her career to public service and access to justice, representing more than 1,700 clients (mostly city of Milwaukee residents) who could not afford to pay for an attorney. She has over fifteen years of experience representing clients in Milwaukee Municipal Court, her website states.
Gena attended Case Western Reserve University where she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and graduated from The University of Wisconsin’s law school.
Gena will replace former Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley, who after more than two decades accepted a position as Director of Marquette University’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.