Oct. 6, 2021 – At 33 years old, Moria Krueger became the first woman judge in Dane County, in 1977, when she defeated an incumbent in a recall election. She stayed on the bench for nearly three decades, but her fate might have been much different.
A native of Manitowoc, Krueger attended college at U.C.-Berkeley, where she met a student from Iran. Krueger nearly married in Iran. “But I learned what life was really like there,” she said. “I had almost no rights. I thought, ‘I don’t think I want to do this.’”
Instead, she followed her dream to become a lawyer. She had wanted to be a lawyer since reading a book on Clarence Darrow, as a young girl.
“People scoffed at me,” Krueger said. “They said, ‘You’re going to get married.’ At that time, the two were mutually exclusive. You couldn’t be married and have a career.”
But Krueger didn’t subscribe to that. Eventually, she was married, to another lawyer, and took the road less traveled for women during that time. She started her career by attending U.W. Law School, graduating in 1970, one of a handful of women in her class.
The Judicial Path
In law school, Krueger clerked for the chief juvenile court judge in Washington D.C. Margo Melli, a law professor and a mentor to Krueger, helped her get the placement.
“At first I was irate, thinking, ‘oh, put the woman in juvenile court,’” Krueger said. “But I ended up falling in love with that area.”
Around this time, the U.S. Supreme Court decided
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), establishing the constitutional due process rights of juveniles accused of crimes.
“That was pretty revolutionary. Kids were entitled to have a lawyer, and with the help of a grant, I was hired as the first juvenile defender in Dane County,” Krueger said. “I was in court a lot. It was an interesting and exciting time.”
Krueger continued that role until she became pregnant and began to show. “The juveniles and their parents just could not handle that,” she said. “It was weird enough that there was a woman who wanted to be called ‘Ms.’ It became too difficult.”
After that she ran a clinical program at U.W. Law School and taught classes while practicing criminal defense with her husband.
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is communications director for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by
email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
Then in 1977, there was a recall election for Judge Archie Simonson, who had made some infamous comments in a criminal case, suggesting a sexual assault that occurred at a local high school was the result of the victim’s clothing.
A reporter happened to be in the courtroom. “It hit the papers and a recall was begun,” Krueger recalled. “There were six of us and no primary. It was an exciting race and covered nationally, billed as a battle of the sexes.”
Krueger’s stepped into the race as a voice for change, and she won the election, which was the subject of a front page
New York Times article at the time.
Krueger was 33 when she joined the bench. Just short of 30 years later, she retired. There were definitely challenges along the way, as the first women judge in her circuit.
“Some of my colleagues were very welcoming and offered to do everything they could to make me feel more comfortable and more at ease, and I was very grateful for that,” Judge Krueger said. “Others would barely talk to me or just ignored my very existence.”
When Krueger took the bench, there was only one other woman judge in the state: Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who was appointed to the supreme court in 1976.
“The first time I showed up for judicial education, auxiliary would take the women to buy some shopping tours, and they kept directing me to that table,” Krueger joked.
“I kept saying, ‘No! I don’t think so.”
A Full Circle
One of the most memorable cases in her career involved an 18-month old baby who was in the jurisdiction of the court. The other siblings were in foster care but the mother convinced Judge Krueger to let her keep the baby.
But when Judge Krueger learned the mother had left the state with her ex-boyfriend, a convicted child molester, she took action. She issued a writ to get the baby back.
“We knew where they were, but the other state did not have to honor the writ. Fortunately, they did. We got her back safely,” Judge Krueger said.
Some 18 years later, the baby – now grown up – came to look at her case file, with Judge Krueger explaining it to her. “We went to her wedding and have since received two birth announcements,” Judge Krueger said. “We stayed in touch.”
While Judge Krueger made the rotations in circuit court, she always liked juvenile court the best. “With kids, there’s a lot of hope,” said Judge Krueger, who retired in 2007. “They can change. They either grow out of it or they get smart.”
She said juvenile court judges can make a tremendous difference in a child’s life. “Even though the family may be far from perfect, you can really intervene meaningfully in their lives,” she said. “And that’s not always true with adults.”
As she looks back on her career, Judge Krueger has some advice for younger attorneys and aspiring judges. “Don’t give up hope,” Judge Krueger said.
“Who can predict what’s going to happen? I wanted to be a judge, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. I knew I could be a better judge than the judge I beat, but I never thought I’d be given the opportunity that I had. And so, just hang in there and keep trying.”
“Don’t get discouraged,” she said. “There’s so many ways to use a law degree that I didn’t even know about when I was in law school. Keep that in mind.”
Judge Krueger said there’s no single path. “You can take a couple of little tangents and see where it gets you. Just be flexible, flexible and persistent!”
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