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Mary Roth Burns makes history as the first woman to serve as an Oneida County Circuit Court Judge

Burns 1.jpg
Katie Thoresen
Judge Mary Roth Burns makes an oath during her investiture ceremony in Oneida County Court Friday.

In the Oneida County Court’s century-plus history, there’s never been a woman presiding on the bench, until now.

“This is truly an historic occasion as Judge Burns will be the first woman as a judge in Oneida County Circuit Court,” said District 9 Chief Judge Ann Knox-Bauer.

The announcement at the beginning of Judge Mary Roth Burns’ Investiture Ceremony was greeted with loud applause.

“It’s humbling really and surprising. Surprising that there wasn’t already a woman judge because there’s been a court here since the 1800s, but you know there haven’t been many women in law until recently,” said Burns. “It’s taken a while to trickle up, you might say.”

That’s not the only thing that sets Judge Mary Burns apart from many of her colleagues on the bench.

Burns worked for the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office for 13 years.

According to the Federal Judicial Center, only 7% of active federal judges in 2020 were former public defenders. Though, former public defenders as judges may start becoming less rare as reported by Courthouse News Service.

“I think the criminal law background is important because about 60% of a court’s caseload is criminal law,” said Burns. “I’m not starting A and having to go through Z in order to learn criminal law issues.”

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Katie Thoresen
Judge Mary Roth Burns thanks everyone who helped her get this position during her investiture ceremony on Friday.

As the new judge, Burns wants to prioritize the backlog cases that have built up over the judgeship transition.

She’s also working with the County Social Services Director to establish a drug wellness court.

The Oneida County Branch I courtroom was packed with friends, family, former colleagues, and current and reserve judges from the 9th District to mark the occasion of Burns investiture.

As some of those people gave speeches both touting her life accomplishments and experiences that they believe will make her a good and fair judge and speaking to the role she will play in the community and justice system, Burns says felt nothing less than blessed in that moment.

“I am just feeling so blessed and honored by the people who came today, took time out of their day. Not just the speakers but the people in attendance.”

Burns was appointed by Governor Evers following Judge Patrick O’Melia’s retirement. She will serve the remainder of his term that ends in July 2023.

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