May 17, 2017 – He sits on the bench of the busiest trial court in Wisconsin, and according to his peers, he handles it with dignity and grace.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Frederick Rosa is the recipient of the 2017 Judge of the Year Award, presented by the State Bar of Wisconsin Bench and Bar Committee.
A native of a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, Judge Rosa earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont. When it came time for law school, he chose Marquette. “They have a solidly ranked law school,” he said. Plus, there’s the Milwaukee Bucks, too. “It was a really good decision.”
He chose law because it is “a job where you get paid for talking” and where you can fight for what you’re passionate about. Growing up on the tail end of the civil rights era, he realized that many gains in society are accomplished through the court system.
After graduating in 1984, he worked at the Legal Aid Society in Milwaukee and New York, then went on to practice primarily in family law. Elected to Milwaukee County’s Branch 35 in 2004, he was a little surprised to be assigned to general misdemeanors for his first year. “I was a fish out of water,” he said. But that’s the way he likes it – it was challenging, and something new to master.
He is now in his second year of a new assignment: gun court, handling nonfatal shootings. With its high-volume, high-profile cases, and the violent nature of the crimes, it is the most challenging calendar in Wisconsin.
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
“It’s a tough assignment,” Judge Rosa said. “There’s a lot of guns out there, and there’s a lot of young people with anger – so the guns come out. Gun violence is now as bad as I ever remember. We have a lot of court and law enforcement resources dedicated to this so it doesn’t become worse.”
Many defendants and victims are African-American – and they all notice that it is an African-American man who sits on the bench. “It makes a difference,” Judge Rosa said.
He makes a point to explain everything to the defendants. “That’s the most important thing when people go through the process: they ought to be treated with respect, irrespective of what they’ve done,” he said. “They should be listened to and treated fairly, even if it doesn’t go their way.”
It is not an easy thing to impose the severe sentences required of the crimes committed. “It’s the hardest part of the job,” he said. It is emotionally draining, and complicated, with many forces from the community coming in from different directions. “It’s been a challenging assignment,” Judge Rosa said. His work is a team effort. “I receive a lot of support – from other judges, lawyers, and staff. My staff is the best in the world,” he said. “As busy as we are, I’m thankful they haven’t quit!”
Judge Rosa has been a voice of reason in the ocean of chaos that exists on the streets of Milwaukee.
– Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro
A Voice of Reason
He handled gun court so well that Chief Judge Maxine White assigned him to the court for a second year, said Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro. “Fred Rosa has been a voice of reason in the ocean of chaos that exists on the streets of Milwaukee, where these cases come from. He is certainly among the best that the Wisconsin judiciary has to offer.”
Judge Rosa is “remarkable as a person and judge,” said Judge Marry Triggiano, and he handles the busy schedule of the gun court with dignity and grace. “He firmly believes that access to justice should always be a high priority, and he works every day to achieve that for his community.”
“I was floored,” Judge Rosa said, to be the recipient of the Judge of the Year Award.
A bass guitar player, Judge Rosa uses music as a catharsis. “Music is a wonderful way to relieve stress,” Judge Rosa said.
And, off the bench, he has the loving support of his family, including his wife, Kathy Jones-Rosa, a public school teacher; two children, Frederick and Keyla; and a twin brother, Benjamin, who looks so much like him that people often mistake one for the other. “When I was sworn in, he came to my investiture, and people kept mixing us up, shaking his hand and saying ‘congratulations.’ After a while, he just said ‘Thanks.’”
Join in the Celebration
They are judges, lawyers, law firms, and law students – all recognized for doing something, or many things, out of the ordinary. Join the State Bar in honoring Judge Rosa and other award recipients at the Member Recognition Celebration at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 15, during the State Bar 2017 Annual Meeting & Conference.
The event is free, and all State Bar members and their friends and families are invited to celebrate these individuals at the Glacier Canyon Lodge at the Wilderness in Wisconsin Dells.
For more information, visit the Annual Conference website, register for the free celebration event on WisBar.org’s Marketplace, or call Customer Service at (800) 728-7788.
Congratulations to this year’s award recipients:
Hon. Donald R. Zuidmulder, Brown County Circuit Court – Lifetime Jurist
Hon. Frederick C. Rosa, Milwaukee County Circuit Court – Judge of the Year
Emily I. Lonergan, Gimbel Reilly Guerin & Brown LLP, Milwaukee – Gordon Sinykin Award of Excellence
Amy Ferguson, O'Melia, Schiek & McEldowney S.C., Rhinelander – Gordon Sinykin Award of Excellence
Gwendolyn Cooley, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison – Government Lawyers Division Service Award
Rochelle Johnson Bent, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee Inc., Milwaukee – Young Lawyers Division Outstanding Mentor Award
John G. Walsh, Axley, Madison – Young Lawyers Division Outstanding Young Lawyer
Skip Durocher, Minneapolis – Nonresident Lawyers Division Founder's Award
Martin Greenberg, Milwaukee – Senior Lawyers Division Leonard L. Loeb Award
Hon. Thomas J. Walsh, Brown County Circuit Court – Hon. Charles Dunn Author Award
Kent Schlienger, Neider and Boucher, Madison – Hotline Attorney of the Year
Douglas Klingberg, Wisconsin Judicare Inc., Wausau – Pro Bono Attorney of the Year
Merchant & Gould, Madison – Pro Bono Organization of the Year
Elizabeth Nevitt, Nevitt Law Office, Pickett – Public Education Volunteer of the Year
U.W. Law Student Wellness Coalition – Jack DeWitt WisLAP Volunteer Award
Harold A. Menendez, Legal Action of Wisconsin Inc., Madison – Dan Tuchscherer Outstanding Public Interest Law Attorney
Samantha Yee, Administrative Coordinator, Milwaukee Justice Center – Ryan Klesh Public Interest Legal Worker Award
Anthony Moore, Madison, and Brianna Meyer, Milwaukee – Outstanding Public Interest Law Student Awards
Find out more about the award recipients: