An Interview with Judge Rebecca Bradley
Circuit Court Branch #45
I would like to thank Judge Bradley for taking time to answer questions that deal directly with our community. In the midst of a heated campaign it speaks volumes about the character of a candidate that all the community is part of this process so they can vote wisely. Again with this race so highly contested and time of the essence, to answer these in-depth questions shows the type of partnership the Black community is searching for in its judicial branch. I hope this will help provide insight and help you decide tomorrow who will be truly dedicated to our community.
In fairness, we attempted to reach the other candidate Janet Protasiewicz, but no one returned several of our requests for an interview.
Some quick background, In November of 2012 Judge Rebecca Bradley went through a rigorous selection process and then was selected to fill the Circuit Court Branch #45 (Children’s Court). She now is running to retain her seat.
“After practicing law for 16 years, I answered a calling to serve the people of Milwaukee County as a Circuit Court Judge in Children’s Court, where I preside over cases involving children in need of protection or services and juvenile delinquency. I became a judge because I care deeply about the Milwaukee community.”
MD: What do you believe to be the root causes for the high numbers of juvenile offenders? What changes can the court system make to reduce these numbers?
There is a lot of need in our community. Poverty, drugs, alcohol, gang influences and broken homes all contribute to the delinquency of our young people. The court system must use the programs and services available to help children and families overcome some of these challenges, and it must work to rehabilitate the juveniles that have entered the system to prevent them from entering the adult criminal system. One of my most important duties on the bench is to speak to the juvenile offenders who appear before me. Many of them need a stern lecture about their past conduct but they also need words of encouragement and hope.
MD: What do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice, if any?
The system is overloaded. Judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and social workers manage a heavy caseload. I hear between 10 and 22 cases every day—and I am one of eight judges in Children’s Court. Given this huge volume, it is important that all of us devote sufficient time and attention to each case to make sure that no child or family falls through the cracks.
MD: Violent crime, particularly youth violence, is perceived to be at a crisis level by many experts today. What, if any, do you believe is the appropriate role for the judiciary in addressing this perceived crisis?
One of the most important jobs of a trial court judge is to keep our community safe and violent offenders often must spend a period of time in a secure corrections facility. Violent juvenile offenders must receive appropriate corrective and rehabilitative services to change their criminal thinking and redirect them into becoming productive members of society.
MD: Do you believe that voluntary professional and community service is a necessary commitment for persons holding public office? What forms of voluntary professional and community service have you been involved with in the past? Currently?
As public servants, it is important for members of the judiciary to be involved in the legal profession and in the community. As an attorney, I volunteered my legal services to families of developmentally disabled youth in guardianship proceedings, who were unable to afford legal representation. I continue to serve on the Board of the Milwaukee Tennis & Education Foundation, which provides opportunities for central-city children to learn and play tennis, improve academic performance, and develop life skills and values. I also serve on the Wisconsin State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. As part of that service, I participated in forums addressing the experiences of people as diverse as the Somali people who settled in Wisconsin and the Sikh people—groups that have experienced tragic discrimination and hatred. On the campaign trail, I discovered the Community Brainstorming Conference and have attended every month. I have observed that many candidates attend Brainstorming, hand out their campaign literature, and leave. But I have enjoyed sharing breakfast with attendees, speaking with them and occasionally stepping up to the microphone to contribute to the conversation. I will continue to attend.
MD: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your legal career? In your personal life?
It has been my greatest honor and privilege to serve my community as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge. Every day I believe I have an impact on the lives of the children and families who come before me. It has been a rewarding experience to have a positive influence in their lives as well as in the community as a whole.
MD: What are the issues regarding alternative sentences for non-violent offenders?
The juvenile justice system is designed to provide alternatives to incarceration for first-time and non-violent offenders. While on the bench, there are many alternatives available to me at disposition. Many of the juveniles that appear before me come from families that struggle with poverty, drug or alcohol abuse, or are single parent households. Some juveniles struggle with drugs or alcohol themselves. For children in these situations, services are available to provide a combination of counseling, rehabilitation, and mentoring that can effectively prevent these juveniles from reoffending or becoming adult offenders. Additionally, juvenile offenders are frequently required to perform community service, write letters of apology to their victims, and sometimes participate in restorative justice programs. Some juveniles are returned to their homes; others spend time in residential treatment centers or group homes until they are ready to be transitioned home.
MD: What is your general judicial philosophy?
The role of a judge is to interpret the law – not invent it. Judges should defer to democratic processes that result in the creation of laws by legislatures and not attempt to impose their policy preferences in their decisions. It is essential to our system of justice to have independent judges who will apply the law impartially, free of political agendas.
MD: What is your vision for the future of our judicial system: What changes would you advocate and why?
The only secure corrections facility for juvenile offenders is in Irma, Wisconsin, four hours away from Milwaukee. Our juvenile offenders who need to be placed in secure corrections are removed from their community and their family support structure. With the high unemployment rate and vacant land in our central city, I would like to see a secure corrections facility in the City of Milwaukee so that juvenile offenders who require secure corrections because they are violent or repeat offenders can remain in their community and benefit from the support of their families, many of whom cannot afford to travel to Irma.
MD: Do judges have an obligation to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?
I am committed to staying active in the communities I serve and discussing with Milwaukee County residents the issues impacting our justice system. As a judge currently serving in Children’s Court, I have visited several schools to discuss with students my role as a judge, the types of cases I hear and how our justice system operates generally. Along with members of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers, I spoke to students at Morse/Marshall High School during Career Day. I toured St. Anthony’s on the south side, serving primarily Latino students.
I have appeared on multiple radio shows to discuss my work in Children’s Court, including those hosted by Eric Von, Sherwin Hughes, and Perfecto Rivero, among others. It is important for judges to engage in this type of community outreach and I enjoy interacting with the people I serve.
MD: Please describe your first- hand experiences, if any, dealing with people who are different from you socially, economically, or politically.
I served a six-year term as a member of the Milwaukee Forum, which is a racially, professionally, economically, and politically diverse group of current and prospective leaders in the community whose dialogue and involvement is designed to enhance greater racial and ethnic understanding and improve the well-being of the Milwaukee community. I am now an alumni member. It has been enlightening for me to hear a variety of perspectives on the issues facing our community.
As an attorney, I volunteered my legal services to families of developmentally disabled youth in guardianship proceedings. Those families were unable to afford legal representation, and many were families of color. I continue to serve on the Board of the Milwaukee Tennis & Education Foundation, which provide opportunities for central-city children to learn and play tennis, improve academic performance, and develop life skills and values. I also serve on the Wisconsin State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
I have traveled the world, experiencing very different cultures. I served as an adult supervisor on an economic study tour of Africa—visiting Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya—and witnessed extreme poverty, held babies with AIDS in orphanages, and grew as a person by spending time in different cultures. I’ve traveled in Asia. I’ve visited mosques and prayed in the Sikh temple.
MD: Why should voters support you rather than your opponent?
I am the only candidate in this race who has judicial experience. During my time on the bench, I have presided over hundreds of cases. Prior to taking the bench, I practiced law for over 16 years, including four years in a quasi-judicial role as an arbitrator. I handled a variety of civil litigation matters and have not spent my career on just one side of the courtroom, unlike my opponent who has spent her entire career as a prosecutor. I am proud to have the support of people from all corners of the county, across the political spectrum—including public officials like E. Michael McCann, who served as Milwaukee County’s District Attorney for 38 years and was my opponent’s boss for most of her career. I have such widespread support because I have developed a reputation for being an intelligent, impartial and well-prepared judge, who treats everyone in the courtroom fairly and with patience, dignity and respect.
MD: To what extent do you believe that a judge should or should not defer to the actions of a legislature?
Judges are bound to apply the law as written by the legislature to the extent that it does not conflict with the U.S. or Wisconsin constitutions.
MD: What things would you like voters to know that were not covered in these questions?
I was born and raised in the City of Milwaukee and have lived in Milwaukee county most of my life. I became a judge because I care deeply about the Milwaukee Community. I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital on 50th & Chambers and was raised in a home just west of there. After my Dad lost his job in the 1980s recession, my family fell below the federal poverty line. But I was blessed with wonderful parents who emphasized the importance of a strong family and a good education. My family’s experiences give me a unique appreciation for the challenges faces by families in Milwaukee County. In taking the bench, I responded to a calling to serve my community and it has been my privilege and honor to do so as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge.
MD: Many Blacks are affected by the judicial system more so than any other community, so we are very concerned about the County Judicial system. What can you tell the Black community to assure us that you are may entertain working with us in the future to fight the crisis of black crime especially as it relates to the judicial system and youth/families?
When I became a judge, I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of juvenile offenders and families in need who come before me come from the African American community. I have questioned those who work within the system as to why this is the case. I have also raised this question at Community Brainstorming. I continually interact with people who are trying to reduce the incidence of crime within the black community—both to keep this community safe to prevent our African American youth from entering the adult criminal system. Many of these juvenile offenders have fathers who are absent from their lives, sometimes because these fathers are incarcerated. In those circumstances, I ensure that these young offenders have mentors to redirect them to focus on school and productive activities and away from the street. I continue to meet people who are involved in public-private partnerships to fill gaps in the justice system created by limited resources. For example, juvenile offenders leaving secure corrections sometimes do not have a stable family available to help them transition into adulthood and back to the community. I will be working with individuals who have experience in adult corrections to identify options for providing services to these youth so that they do not resort to an adult life of crime to survive.
“I am committed to the rule of law, treating all participants in the court system with dignity and respect, and applying the law fairly and impartially. When I proudly took the Oath of Office, I swore to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin. I understand my duty to apply the law as it is written and not as I may wish it to be. I faithfully exercise this duty in dozens of cases every week and it is a privilege to serve the people of Milwaukee County. I would be honored to have your support and your vote on April 2nd.”
To find out more about Judge Rebecca Bradley you can visit her website at:
You can contact her campaign at: