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History made: Pedro Colón sworn-in as first Latino Court of Appeals judge

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//November 21, 2023//

Judge Pedro Colón swearing-in ceremony, November 20, 2023 in Milwaukee. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

History made: Pedro Colón sworn-in as first Latino Court of Appeals judge

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//November 21, 2023//

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Justice is supposed to be swift, just, and blind. Any attorney, litigant, or judge knows this is far from reality in Wisconsin’s legal system.

A reformation and rebirth of justice is in its infancy in the Badger State, said Attorney Mark Thomsen during the historic swearing in of Pedro Colón to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals Monday in Milwaukee.

Quoting Frederick Douglass, Thomsen said, “No Republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them,” noting the significance of the first Latino sitting on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in a time when Nazis recently marched in Madison, hate is running rampant on college campuses, and terrorists are kidnapping and murdering civilians.

Thomsen said Douglass’ message has clearly been lost over time.

“Unfortunately, we are in a large part disregarding that as we are approaching the third anniversary of the January 6th, 2021 insurrection, during most of which the Confederate flag was flown for the first time in our capitol. And we have yet come close to a national consensus on the significance and the evilness of that event,” Thomsen said.

In a packed Milwaukee County courtroom on Monday, Colón took the oath of office, making history as the former Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge is now the first Latino member of Wisconsin’s appellate court.

The investiture ceremony, which lasted just over an hour, was attended by judges from across the Badger State at both the trial and appellate court levels, as well as prominent members of Wisconsin’s legal community, friends and family and the general public.

The ceremony began with a mariachi band performing the National Anthem and was emceed by the judge’s niece, Milwaukee Attorney Catarina Colón.

Milwaukee Attorney Catarina Colón, Judge Pedro Colon’s niece, speaks Nov. 20 in Milwaukee at the investiture ceremony of her uncle. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, the younger Colón is an associate with Husch Blackwell LLP and is a member of the firm’s band.

Deputy Chief/Presiding Judge M. Joseph Donald, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District I, speaks Nov. 20, in Milwaukee at the investiture ceremony of Pedro Colón. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

An invocation was performed by Father Bill Johnson and remarks were made by Judge M. Joseph Donald, Wisconsin Court of Appeals; Rebeca López (Godfrey & Kahn); Jose Olivieri (Michael Best & Friedrich); Mark Thomsen (Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs); and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

The audience laughed as Donald joking said to Colón, “I look forward to reviewing one of your first dissents.”

López, who serves as the vice president of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association as well as on several non-profit boards, said, “I am encouraged that our Court is becoming closer to representative of all of Wisconsin’s communities.”

“The case for diversity on the bench has grown. Not only does diversity ensure more just outcomes by representing the complex industry of experiences in our society, but it also improves the perception of the public and the legitimacy through the eyes of the public, of decisions from the judicial branch …,” López added.

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, recent attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Noting Latinos have not been well represented in the various branches of Wisconsin government, Lopez said, “Judge Colón will bring a voice and perspective to the Court of Appeals that has been noticeably absent.”

Speaking after López, Milwaukee-based Attorney José Olivieri said, “Colón will severe as a role model going forward.”

Olivieri leads Michael Best’s Higher Education Industry Group and counsels both public and private colleges and universities on issues involving governance, financial challenges, Title IX, student discipline and contract administration.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore noted the significance of Colón previously being elected as the first Latino to the Wisconsin General Assembly.

“He was the (Latino) representative,” Moore said.

Prior to commencing the swearing-in portion of the ceremony, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley delivered comments on behalf of her colleagues on Wisconsin’s highest court.

“This is indeed a historic day. Let us rejoice and be glad, I say,” Bradley said, noting she has known Colón for many years and described him as “a man of courage,” echoing the sentiments throughout the Wisconsin legal community and beyond.

Bradley said she believes she shares a similar vision with Colón for the future of Wisconsin’s judiciary.

The courts “must be neutral … beholden to no one and no organization. Our only allegiance must be to the people that we serve, the laws of the state and the state and federal constitution,” Bradley said.

“To insure a truly just legal system that reflects the history of the values of the state we must make sure that courts are accessible to the public, no matter if you are rich or poor, powerful or powerless,  no matter your station in life, your political beliefs, this court, our court, our judicial system exists to serve all of the people,” Bradley said, noting how restoring the public’s trust in the courts remains a top priority.

Pedro Colón
Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Pedro Colón swearing-in ceremony, Nov. 20 in Milwaukee. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

The conclusion of the ceremony included remarks by Judge Colón and a final performance of the mariachi band.

“I will work hard to make sure the community is represented,” Colón said in conclusion.

Prior to becoming a Court of Appeals judge Monday, Colón served as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge for 13 years and served in the Wisconsin Legislature for more than a decade.

Colón was appointed to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court by former Gov. Jim Doyle in 2010 and has been reelected by Milwaukee County voters three times.

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, back in June of 2023, Gov. Tony Evers appointed Colón to fill a vacancy on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District I.

“His dedication to his community, breadth of experiences and commitment to applying the law impartially and fairly will make him an excellent judge on the Court of Appeals,” Gov. Evers said.

Colón graduated from Marquette University and University of Wisconsin Law School, and lives in Milwaukee with his wife, Betty. He has two daughters.

In his free time, Colón serves as a board member of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. He is a past board member of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

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