"Evers' judges" is our effort to present information about Gov. Tony Evers' appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications.
Italics indicate direct quotes from the application. Typos, including punctuation errors, come from the original application even though we have not inserted “(sic)” after each one. WJI has left them as is.
Name: Ashley J. Morse
Appointed to: Rock County Circuit Court
Appointment date: March 25, 2022
Law School – University of Wisconsin
Undergraduate – University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana, Illinois
High School – Prophetstown, Illinois
Recent legal employment:
2010-present – Attorney with Trial Division, Wisconsin State Public Defender, Madison
January 2009-May 2009 – Extern with Wisconsin Department of Justice Litigation Unit
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
Wisconsin State Bar
U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin
Illinois State Bar
General character of practice:
I represent children between age 10 and 17 in delinquency and JIPS (juvenile in need of protection or services) proceedings as well as children over the age of 12 in CHIPS (child in need of protection or services) proceedings. I represent parents facing Termination of Parental Right. I also represent individuals subject to civil commitments under Ch. 51 and protective placements under Ch. 55. I represent children and adults over the age of 17 in all types of criminal felony and misdemeanor cases ranging from First Degree intentional Homicide to disorderly conduct. Additionally, I represent individuals under the supervision of the Department of corrections in administrative proceedings. I also sometimes represent parents facing contempt for non-payment of child support obligations.
Describe typical clients:
My clients are typically children and indigent adults. Many have experienced significant trauma both in childhood and as adults. Many struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues. Many also believe that because of their race or income level they will not be treated fairly in by the justice system.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 9 jury trials, numerous court trials
List up to three significant trials, appeals, or other legal matters in which you participated as a judge or lawyer in the past seven years:
I have not included client information to maintain confidentiality. A review my bar number in CCAP will further demonstrate the variety of cases I have handled.
Rock County 2018 Felony
In 2018 I represented a young black man facing multiple felony charge. After investigating the case I was able to negotiate a plea agreement for probation consistent with my clients express wishes, Although the hearing was not contested, what still sticks out in my mind the most is the argument the state made in support of our joint probation recommendation, When addressing the court, the ADA described my young black clients pretrial detention as a "taste of the lash", I was completely taken aback that anyone would find this language acceptable speech in a courtroom in 2018, but no one else seemed to bat an eye. This was an acceptable reasonable argument to make in Rock County. Some people describe our criminal justice system as modern day slavery and in that moment it had never felt more true, I believe Judges have an obligation to ensure that everyone that walks into their courtroom is treated with dignity and respect. That day my client received neither. If this culture does not change, Wisconsin will continue to consistently rank at the top of lists as having some of the worst racial disparity in this country. In the seven years I have lived and worked in this county I have also had the fortune of working with a number of community members and justice system stakeholders that have demonstrated a genuine commitment to address the racial disparity that is present in Rock County that want to see this culture change. I hope to continue to engage in that important work if selected for this appointment.
Rock County 2016 Felony sex assault
In 2016 I represented a 15 year old who I later learned had agreed to be waived into Adult court. He had no history in the juvenile system. He was small for 15 and hardly spoke. After a few meetings with him an article I had recently read by Michele LaVigne about the prevalence of language disorders in the prison population came to mind and I decided to send her an email. That led to a connection with a UW professor and eventually receiving a report from an evaluation that showed this child had significant language deficits. That then led to a competency evaluation and another report later I had a better picture of the little boy who hardly spoke. By that point in the case I had significant doubts this child made a free, knowing, and voluntary decision to agree to be waived into adult court but my research indicated that there was very little I could do at that stage of the proceedings. I remember very vividly the sounds of his mother's sobs behind me when the State referred to her quite boy as a monster. Children and especially children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in our justice system, They are bombarded with huge quantities of information and forced to make complicated decisions that can have life long consequence, It is so critically important that we have well trained, culturally competent attorneys handling Juvenile cases in this state, This case reminds me how truly unfortunate it is that we remain one of only three states in this country that continue to prosecute17 year olds as adults. It also illustrates to me how critically important it is for a Judge to take time and engage with children to ensure their actual level of understanding.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
As a public defender I would routinely represent individuals facing revocation of their probation or extended supervision. The hearing would be conducted in local jails or virtually and presided over by administrative law judges with the Division of Hearings and Appeals.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation): None listed
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: None listed
Previous runs for public office: None listed
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years:
Jane Bucher, Green County Circuit Court judge, 2021
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
NLADA (likely National Legal Aid & Defender Association), 2020 to present
BPDA (likely Black Public Defender Association), 2021 to present
NAPD (likely National Association for Public Defense), 2020 to present
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
As a public defender much of my volunteer service has focused on education. I have worked extensively with the National Juvenile Defender center (now the Gault Center) to enhance the practice of juvenile defense at both the State and national level. My work as an ambassador for racial justice as well as the agency racial and ethic disparity practice coordinator has included educating attorneys on the impact of racial bias at the systemic level but also how it can impact defense attorney's implicitly in the way we prepare and evaluate cases and interact with clients. I very much enjoy working with children and served as a coach for the Turner High School Mock Trial Team in 2018. Also, as a member of the Rock County Trauma Task force I share space and collaborate with a variety of stakeholder groups to provide information on childhood trauma to community members and also provide some fun entertainment for kids with bubbles and face paint during the annual national night out event.
Why I want to be a judge -- As a child I remember feeling like the ''justice system" was something that just happened to families like mine. My father struggled with addiction until his death and like many black fathers in the 1980's was swept away to prison for most of my life as America got tough on crime. Years later my little brother born. I remember thinking how sad it was that his dad was gone too. He also lost his father to the justice system but in a very different way. His father was a young black man who died on duty as a police officer. I didn't know much about this system then but I didn't think it was fair. Decades later as I write this I believe we can still do better for the people in this State.
I remember watching movies as a child and seeing a white judge and a white lawyer and a white jury and a guy on trial that looked a lot like my Dad. I remember thinking that system didn't really seem fair but at the time I didn't see a role for myself in it. Over the years I've heard defense attorneys refer to Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird as someone that inspired their decision to become a defense attorney. I never felt inspired by that movie. I mostly just felt sad. Even as a child I felt a duty to try to fix things that seemed unfair and that path led me to the Public Defender's Office. It is that same sense of duty combined with a belief that this system can be fairer and more just that I seek this appointment.
I've seen that trial scene from To Kill a Mockingbird play out in courtrooms all over this state and each time I think it still doesn't quite fair. In my twelve years as a defense attorney I have represented hundreds of clients of all different races in about 7 different counties across this state and never once have I appeared before a Judge that was a person of color or tired a case to a jury that wasn't all white.
Continuous police killings of black men and women have put our courtrooms on TV screens again and consistent public demands for change have followed. I hope as a Judge I can continue to be part of that change.
Describe which case in the past 25 years by the Wisconsin Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court you believe had a significant positive or negative impact on the people of Wisconsin.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health 0rganization – pending SCOTUS
As more states follow Texas and Mississippi, I believe many women in this State are waiting in terror wondering if Wisconsin will be next. Forty-eight years later a court that is majority male are again debating what women can and can't do with their bodies. I join Justice Sonia Sotomayor and ask, what has changed other than the makeup of the court that we now wonder if Roe v. Wade will survive? To quote Justice Sotomayor, "Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?" I fear the answer to that question and the impact it may have on the people in this state. I fear the impact it will have on the public faith that is necessary for our institutions and democracy to survive.
State v. Stephen I Roberson – SCOW 2019
In Roberson the Supreme Court abrogated State v. Dubose, 285 Wis.2d 143, 699 N.W.2d 582 which had held in part that evidence obtained from an out-of-court show up is inherently suggestive and will not be admissible unless, based on the totality of the circumstances, the procedure was necessary. Misidentification is a serious issue that results in wrongful convictions and disproportionally impacts people of color. This has been researched, tested, and demonstrated using reliable social science. This branch of science devoted to the study of societies and the relationships among individuals within those societies is an important tool to aid our understanding of how inequality happens and how we can fix it. It helps us figure out why people do the things they do which is an important consideration in almost every aspect of our justice system. The Dubose decision resulted in many law enforcement agencies adopting better policies and procedures to reduce creating unnecessary risk of misidentification.
For a case about show up identifications there is a long discussion of landmark civil rights cases Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. The Majority opinion attributes the decision to uphold segregation in Plessy to a misguided reliance on what they concede was bad social science. They suggest Brown, which relied heavily on social science, is still good law but only because it was in response to the bad science in Plessy. There is no claim that the science relied on in Dubose was inaccurate or unreliable in anyway but overturn it anyway simply because it was used. It's important to note the opinion makes no mention of the history race has played in the formation of this county or the racism that was readily apparent in our justice system at the time, or that for years the judiciary consisted entirely of rich white men. Instead, they expose "social science" as the true villain. Its concerning this may be an emerging trend of utilizing social science as a scapegoat to roll back constitutional protections.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
Everett Mitchel (Dane County, WI) – As someone who has spent a lot of time focusing on juvenile defense his reputation precedes him. He is a great example of the impact one Judge can have disrupting the status quo. His position on Juvenile shackling reignited a much-needed conversation throughout the entire state about the way we treat children in court.
Mark Bennett (U.S. District, Northern District of Iowa) – Judge Bennett's understanding of the impact implicit racial bias has in our jury system resulted in him developing an instruction on implicit racial bias that he incorporated into his standard instructions. His progressive approach to that issue has resulted in Judges across the country adopting similar instructions.
Molly GaleWyrick (Polk County, WI, retired) – When I began my legal career with the Wisconsin State Public Defender I was 25 years old and nervous as heck to begin working in rural and sparsely populated Polk county. There I quickly learned I had quite the good fortune to practice in front of Molly Galewyrick. One of the first things I learned was that her last name was a combination of her maiden name Gale and her husbands name Wyrick. They broke with tradition, lost the hyphen, and created something that was new and equal and that was something that I admired. In the five years I appeared before her … Molly consistently proved to be a creative problem solver who valued fairness and equality and was never afraid to try something new just because in hadn't been done before. With great leadership and perseverance, she was able to start a drug court program and develop a CJCC in a very conservative part of the state.
I believe it was sometime in those first couple years I had my first client get sentenced to prison. I think it was an OWI 10th so not exactly a shocking outcome but I remember walking out of that court and I just started crying. It really hit me how much impact three random people just had on a person's life and what a tremendous responsibility that was. The deep sense of care and compassion Molly brought to her role as a Judge made that easy to see very early on. Depriving a person of their liberty was not something she ever approached lightly or with callousness. Removing a person from a family and community has an impact with ripples that flow out and touch many lives. Maybe that is something that is easier to see in a small town. Molly showed me that there is always room for kindness and compassion in our courtrooms and I am so grateful for that.
The proper role of a judge:
Judges must be impartial and strive to properly interpret the meaning, significance, and implications of the law. Judges must also recognize that justice means more than just interpreting the law, they must also show compassion and understanding for the people on both sides of the case.
Many people say a Judge must be unbiased and claim to be free of bias. We are human and exist in a society full of bias and stereotypical messaging across all types of media. Whether we endorse the belief or not those implicit associations are being made in our brains. We all have bias. That's just how our brains work. I believe a Judge has a special responsibility to investigate themselves and ensure they are aware of what their biases are and work extra hard to keep them from inappropriately impacting their decision making. They must remain vigilant, commit to continuous education, and practice cultural humility.
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