KENOSHA, Wis. — Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder, who is presiding over the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, has a reputation as a no-nonsense judge who is not afraid to voice his displeasure to attorneys arguing their cases in his courtroom.
Rittenhouse is charged with felony homicide for the fatal shooting of Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and felony attempted homicide for allegedly wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.
Before the trial began, Schroeder denied a prosecution motion to prohibit the defense from referring to the people Rittenhouse shot as “rioters, looters and arsonists,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
During cross-examination during the trial on Wednesday, Schroeder twice asked the jury to leave the room before admonishing prosecutor Thomas Binger for his line of questioning. Binger had asked Rittenhouse about an incident two weeks before the Kenosha shootings that Schroeder said would not be allowed into evidence.
“Don’t get brazen with me,” Schroeder told Binger. “You know very well that an attorney can’t go into these types of areas when the judge has already ruled without asking outside the presence of the jury to do so, so don’t give me that.”
Here are some things to know about Bruce Schroeder.
Long legal history
Schroeder, 75, graduated from Marquette Law School in 1970, worked as a prosecutor, and began serving as a circuit judge in 1983, according to The New York Times. He is the longest-serving current judge in Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel. His current term expires in 2026.
In the late 1980s, Schroeder drew attention after ordering a convicted child molester who also engaged in prostitution to get an AIDS test, attorney John Anthony Ward, who represented the defendant, told CNN.
We objected on privacy grounds,” Ward said.
Schroeder began ordering convicted sex workers to submit to AIDS tests over concerns they were spreading the virus, according to CNN.
‘’I’m concerned about the man who patronizes a prostitute who has AIDS and then goes home and transmits the virus to his girlfriend, or to his wife, and there is a baby born who later dies of AIDS,’’ Schroeder said at the time, according to a Chicago Tribune report. ‘’What about the rights of that child?’’
Schroeder is known for his businesslike approach and was able to impanel a jury for the Rittenhouse trial in one day, The Washington Post reported.
“His word is final and he’s not afraid to make tough decisions,” Dan Adams, a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, told CNN.
Schroeder has a reputation for strictness in sentencing, according to the Times. On occasion, he has lectured prospective jurors about their civic duty. In the Rittenhous trial, Schroeder compared the jurors’ duty to a U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam.
“He has a reputation for having good days and bad days -- I’ve heard the word ‘mercurial’ used to describe him,” Dan Adams, a former prosecutor in Milwaukee County and now a defense attorney, told the newspaper. “But he is old school, literally and figuratively.”
“Judge Schroeder is not a pro-defense judge,” Ward told CNN. “He’s a very tough judge. ... But he’s going to give you a fair trial.”
Schroeder quotes the Bible, Shakespeare and medieval judicial philosophy while presiding over his courtroom, according to the Post. During downtimes in a trial, he has been known to host a “Jeopardy!”-style trivia game, applauding those in the audience who answer correctly.
“He’s a strange character,” Jeremiah Meyer-O’Day, who has practiced criminal law in Wisconsin for a decade, told the newspaper. “He’s a little flamboyant.”
Schroeder has conceded that some of the topics raised during Rittenhouse’s pretrial hearings were new to him, the Times reported. Until this case, Schroeder said he had never heard of the Proud Boys, a right-wing group that offered support to Rittenhouse after the shootings.
Schroeder added he was not familiar with the “OK” hand gesture that has been used by white supremacists, the newspaper reported.
“The first time I saw it, or a version of it, was Chef Boyardee on a can of spaghetti,” Schroeder said.
Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals threw out part of a sentence Schroeder imposed against a woman convicted of shoplifting, the Journal Sentinel reported. Schroeder ruled that while on two years of supervision -- after a 15-month prison term -- the woman had to inform the management of any store she entered that she was on supervision for retail theft.
“We are not persuaded that embarrassing or humiliating defendants with a state-imposed broad public notification requirement promotes their rehabilitation,” the appeals court ruled.
During the 2008 murder trial of Mark Jensen, who was accused of poisoning his wife with antifreeze and then smothering her in 1991, the conviction was overturned, the Times reported. Appellate courts and the state Supreme Court ruled that Schroeder had improperly allowed evidence in the trial.
Schroeder allowed the prosecution to present a letter that Julie Jensen had written and given to a neighbor, along with voice mail messages she left for a police officer, suggesting that if anything happened to her, Mark Jensen would be responsible, the newspaper reported.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court found “voice from the grave” statements were inadmissible at trial unless it was determined Mark Jensen had forfeited his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him by killing the witness, the Journal Sentinel reported.
A new trial was ordered, and Julie Jensen’s letter will not be allowed as evidence, according to the Post.
“I had it 100% correct in the first place,” Schroeder said in court last week. “That was 20 years ago. The man is still in prison. And the case has again been reversed because of the evidence that the Supreme Court told me to admit.”
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