Image Courtesy of yahoo.com
Andrea Douglas, Queen’s University
Edited by: Yang Ran Cheng
Judge Bruce Schroeder of the Kenosha County Circuit Court is the longest-serving active judge in Wisconsin’s trial courts. Despite this long-standing career in the judicial system, Judge Schroeder has proved himself to be incapable of conducting a fair, unbiased, solemn trial. The defendant in this contentious trial, Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, has pleaded not guilty to six separate charges, ranging from first-degree intentional homicide to first-degree attempted intentional homicide.
In August 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse travelled from his home state of Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protests against racial injustice were taking place over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber with a military-style assault rifle while also gravely wounding Gaige Grosskreutz.
A high-profile, tense, racially charged case such as this would warrant the utmost competence on behalf of the judge presiding over the trial. Unfortunately, Judge Schroeder, the judge on this case, has displayed signs of bias and unprofessionalism. Within the last few years, Judge Schroeder has curated a reputation of being a tough jurist, famously reiterating his “long-standing rule of not allowing prosecutors to refer to people as ‘victims’ before juries in his courtroom.” By not allowing the prosecutor to call the murdered men victims, the judge is euphemising the crimes of Rittenhouse.
On November 11, 2021, Judge Schroeder began the day by asking the courtroom and jury if anyone present had served in the military. The only person who identified as a veteran was John Black, a defense expert on the use-of-force. “Schroeder then motioned to the jury, and said that he thinks that everyone should give a ‘round of applause to the people who have served,’ while gesturing back over toward Black.” Ron Filipkowski, a criminal lawyer of 27 years at the state and federal level, who has experience being a prosecutor and a defense attorney, remarks: “in all my years of practice, I have never seen a trial judge during a trial put the jury in a position where they would have to applaud a defense witness right before they are about to take the stand and testify.” According to Filipkowski, judges presiding over any criminal trial should “never put members of the jury in a position where they are asked to applaud for a witness about to testify” because it could likely have a manipulative effect on the jury’s ability to stay impartial. It is exceedingly unprofessional for a trial judge to appear as though they “favor or agree with one side or another in a trial. A judge must also not express a favorable personal opinion about a witness – even to laud them for military service.”
Also on November 11, Judge Schroeder made comments that many have interpreted as racist and anti-Asian. He said aloud to the court before the lunch break, “I hope the Asian food isn’t coming…isn’t on one of those boats from Long Beach Harbor”, likely referring to the supply chain disruptions caused by congested Californian ports. Schroeder’s comments have seemingly placed blame on Asian people for an issue beyond their control.
On November 10, 2021, there was another incident that involved shouting in the courtroom. Judge Schroeder, consistent with his “style of unusual lectures and quirky questions in court” behaved erratically when he “heavily admonished prosecutors…[and] questioned the authenticity of some pinch-to-zoom footage presented in evidence, and apparently forgot to silence his phone in court, which at one point rang with a song used at Donald Trump’s rallies.”
As a result of many other moments of ludicrous and unseemly behaviour, Judge Bruce Schroeder has jeopardized the impartiality of this contemptuous case. As Filipkowski effectively summarized: “In a trial as high profile as Rittenhouse, it is crucial for everyone to have confidence that due process was fairly applied. Whatever the verdict, many people have already concluded that it wasn’t.”
Chavez, N. (2021, November 11). Judge in Kyle Rittenhouse trial makes inappropriate Asian food joke. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/11/us/kenosha-judge-bruce-schroeder-asian-food-comments/index.html
Filipkowski, R. (2021, November 12). Rittenhouse legal expert: I’ve never seen a judge act like this in a criminal trial. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from USA TODAY: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/11/12/kyle-rittenhouse-trial-did-judge-bruce-schroeder-act-prudently/6393112001/
Yang, M. (2021, November 11). Kyle Rittenhouse judge in spotlight after angry reprimand of prosecution. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/nov/11/kyle-rittenhouse-judge-trial-bruce-schroeder-prosecution