“Let the evidence show what the evidence shows – that any or one of these people was involved in arson, riots or robbery, then I won’t tell the defense they can’t call them that,” Schroeder said in a closely monitored pre-trial hearing last week. days before the start of the jury selection on Monday.
His decision immediately sparked debate and, in some cases, outrage in legal circles. The longest active judge in the courts of Wisconsin was again thrown into the foreground.
“His word is final and he’s not afraid to make tough decisions,” said Dan Adams, a criminal defense attorney and former Wisconsin prosecutor.
Schroeder, 75, has been under scrutiny on the dock several times in his nearly 40 years: since a 2018 conviction that was rejected following an appeal demanding that a convicted thief tell store managers that she was under scrutiny for retail theft , to commission AIDS tests for sex workers in the late 1980s.
“He has a reputation for doing what he thinks is the right thing to do, and that he’s an independent thinker,” said William Lynch, a retired attorney who was on the ACLU board of directors in Wisconsin at the time Schroeder was deciding on tests for AIDS.
“And this is his courtroom. He doesn’t like to be persecuted by either side. That’s why he has a strong sense of his relationship in the courtroom.”
CNN asked Schroeder for comment.
‘I just killed someone’
The Rittenhouse case is perhaps the most high-profile trial of Schroeder to date.
Video from the protests shows Rittenhouse wearing a green T-shirt and an inverted baseball cap and an AR-15-style rifle walking the streets with a group of armed men.
Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum after a protester threw an object that looked like a plastic bag into it.
As Rosenbaum lay on the floor, the complaint stated that Rittenhouse had escaped. He called a friend and said, “I just killed someone.” When he was chased by protesters, he tripped and fell to the ground.
While on the ground, Rittenhouse, on appeal, shot Huber, who appears to have hit him with a skateboard, and then shot the third protester approaching him, Grosskreutz, in the right hand. Grosskreutz held a gun but had his hands raised, the complaint said.
After the shooting, Rittenhouse walked past police with his arms raised, footage of passersby showed. The morning after the shooting, he surrendered to the local police department.
Discussion on victim identification
The court on Monday examined whether advocates could label Huber, Rosenbaum and Grosskreutz as arsonists, rioters or robbers because of their behavior during the chaotic demonstrations.
“I don’t think I’m prone to prior restraint,” Schroeder said.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger argued that the judge set “double standards” because of his rule against using the word “victim”.
“If I were to count how many times you reminded me not to call someone a victim during a trial, it would be thousands,” Binger said.
“The word ‘victim’ is a charged, charged word. And I think the ‘alleged victim’ is her cousin,” Schroeder replied.
“I think it’s exactly the same question,” Binger told the judge. “The terms I identify here, such as ‘rioters’, ‘rackets’, ‘arsonists’, are as burdened, if not more burdened, than the term ‘victim’.”
Binger argued that Rittenhouse did not notice any behavior by Rosenbaum, Huber, or Grosskreutz that could have led jurors to believe they were arsonists, rioters, or robbers, and should not be part of his defense.
“He can’t object to self-defense against things he’s not aware of,” Binger said. “These other acts are strictly designed to attack the reputation of these individuals.”
Defense counsel argued that Rittenhouse’s actions should be weighed against all of the “lawlessness” that night.
CNN legal analyst Areva Martin called Schroeder’s decision “incomprehensible.” She noted that allowing the use of the words “rioters” and “rackets” means that the victims “deserve what they got. They deserve to be shot and even die.”
One suggestion included a video taken two weeks before Kenosh’s shooting, in which Rittenhouse talked about the AR rifle and wanted to shoot people he believed were looting the CVS store.
An experienced Southeast Wisconsin attorney who has repeatedly appeared before Schroeder described the judge as “someone who has reviewed the constitution and the listed rights of defendants in crimes and … respects the defense’s right to a defense.”
“He’s an old school boy,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named because he still appears in front of Schroeder.
“And that doesn’t mean he’s old. I think he’s 75 years old, which is older than most judges, but he’s just an old schoolboy. He still runs his courtroom like it’s 1980.”
‘He will judge you fairly’
According to attorney John Anthony Ward, who represented the man, Schroeder caught attention in the late 1980s after he ordered a convicted child extortionist, who was also involved in prostitution, to take an AIDS test.
“We objected based on privacy,” Ward said.
Schroeder began ordering convicted sex workers to take AIDS tests out of concern that they were spreading the virus.
Ward does not see Schroeder as a lawyer who favors the rights of the accused.
“Judge Schroeder is not a defense judge,” he said. “He’s a very tough judge … But he’ll give you a fair trial.”
A new trial was made in a high-profile case
As evidence, Schroeder allowed a letter Julie Jensen gave to a neighbor and blames her husband if anything happened to her. The defense argued that Julie Jensen was depressed, that she killed herself and calmed down to her husband.
The letter read in court reads in part, “I pray I’m wrong + nothing happens … but I’m suspicious of Mark’s suspicious behavior + fear of my early death.”
Before sentencing, Schroeder told the defendant, “Your crime is so enormous, so monstrous, so unspeakably cruel, that it overcomes all other considerations.”
The court’s opinion states that the letter is considered inadmissible evidence from rumors that violated Jensen’s right to confront witnesses against him in the Sixth Amendment. Schroeder ruled that the letter was a “statement of death” or proof of her mental state at the time of her death.
Jensen is awaiting a new trial.
The dramatic six-week trial in 2008, almost a decade after Julie Jensen was found dead in bed, was one of Schroeder’s most high-profile cases. This, too, found its way onto national headlines.
“He’s not someone who would be intimidated by media involvement or the attention the case is receiving,” a Wisconsin lawyer said of Schroeder, who asked not to be identified.
“He’s not going to change his judgments because of the public or because he wants a certain outcome. At this point in his career, that’s what he is.”
‘It’s just his style’
In another case, the State Court of Appeal in May overturned a condition of scrutiny imposed by Schroeder on a woman convicted in 2018 of shoplifting.
The condition was that “upon entering any city that sells goods to the public, he informs the management at the service station that he is under control for retail theft.”
The appellate court found that the judge told the woman that the situation would “of course embarrass you”. And even though people are no longer in stock, “shame has a valuable place in deterring crime,” Schroeder told the woman.
“We are not convinced that embarrassing or humiliating defendants with the state’s requirement of broad information to the public promotes their rehabilitation,” the high court said. The appellate judges also found that the condition could negatively affect female children.
“I would say that his entire career as a judicial judge is one that I find fair to the defense in presenting evidence and at trial,” Kenosha counsel Terry Rose said of Schroeder.
“I don’t support the idea of declaring someone a thief before you go to the store. I absolutely oppose it,” Rose said. “I think he will be a good judge in this trial and he will be able to do what is right under the law and maintain control of the courtroom, giving the defendant a chance to present his best defense.”
Schroeder will be 80 years old when his current term expires in 2026.
A lawyer in Wisconsin, who demanded that he not be identified, found that Schroeder’s sharp tongue and sometimes militant manner had “softened” over the years.
‘Some bark and for younger lawyers they’re very sensitive to things like that.’ Oh, the judge yelled at me. ‘ Said the lawyer.
“For example, tighten up, buttercup. It’s a criminal court. Senior lawyers say, ‘Okay, he yelled at me. Then I saw him in the hallway and he asked me how my son’s basketball game was.’ It’s just his style. “
Jenn Selva, Kelly McCleary, Sara Sidner, Anna-Maja Rappard, Omar Jimenez and Bill Kirkos contributed to this story.