Word that the judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial ruled this week that those shot by the 17-year-old could not be called “victims” during the trial brought a swift reaction from Rittenhouse defenders who claimed there was nothing unusual about that order. That includes the part where Judge Bruce Schroeder informed the defense that in their closing arguments, they could call those shot by Rittenhouse “looters,“ “rioters,” and “arsonists.” Or the part where Schroeder told Mark Richards, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, that he could “demonize them if he wants, if he thinks it will win points with the jury.”
Schroeder is allowing three men who were shot by Rittenhouse—two of whom were shot dead at the scene—to be labelled as criminals by the defense team if they produce any evidence, even though those men are not facing charges and can offer no defense of their own. On the other hand, no matter what evidence the prosecution produces, they aren’t allowed to refer to those who were shot as victims.
A quick Google of a few well-known trials shows the word “victim” appearing frequently in transcripts of other cases. And claims that it’s not unusual to block this term are certainly news to CNN legal analyst Eric Honig, who in addition to saying this had never come up in in cases, called the ruling “crazy and wrong.”
Those trying to find some excuse for Schroeder might want to check a little into his history, because this isn’t the first time he’s done something that was extremely unusual. Or the first time his actions are likely to lead to giving attorneys excellent grounds for appeal. In fact, hundreds of people have tried to get their cases moved away out of Schroeder’s court, because his actions have been irrational and unpredictable.
As Kenosha News reports, in 2018, Schroeder revived a practice centuries out of date when he ordered that a woman convicted of retail theft be punished with “public shaming.” Schroeder sentenced Milwaukee resident Markea Brown to 15 months in prison, and during the two years that followed, he charged her with the responsibility that every time she entered a store, she had to “notify management at the service desk that she is on supervision for retail theft.”
Schroeder informed Brown that while he couldn’t “put her in the stocks,” he could still see that she was “embarrassed and humiliated.”
The sentence was overturned on appeal, with the appellate court declaring, “We are not persuaded that embarrassing or humiliating defendants with a state-imposed broad public notification requirement promotes their rehabilitation.”
This was far from the first time. As Madison.com made clear in 2006, “The reputation of one Kenosha County circuit judge is apparently so daunting that hundreds of defendants request a different judge, creating imbalances in the workloads of different felony courts.”
Schroeder’s reputation wasn’t daunting in that he uniformly gave harsher punishments. It was daunting in the sense that he was, according to one defense attorney, “unpredictable.” So many cases were moved out of Schroeder’s courtroom that it created a backlog of cases for other judges.
And if that’s not a long enough history of his unusual behavior, there’s this from the 1987 Chicago Tribune.
So far, Schroeder has ordered testing for the AIDS virus and other venereal diseases for three women convicted in his court of prostitution. The tests were made as a condition of their probation, the judge said.
Schroeder said that he hoped his “unusual orders” would be challenged by libertarians, ”and I hope they lose.”
They were. They didn’t.
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