Evers' judges: Katherine Sloma
"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: Katherine Sloma
Appointed to: Shawano-Menominee Counties Circuit Court
Appointment date: July 6, 2020 (elected to a six-year term in April 2021)
Law School – Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio
Undergraduate – University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
High School – Denmark High, Denmark, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
April 2018-present – City attorney, Shawano, Wisconsin
November 2004-present – Attorney, Aschenbrener Woods Lamia Schmid, S.C., Shawano, Wisconsin
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
State Bar of Wisconsin
Menominee Tribal Court
Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Court (lapsed)
General character of practice:
I am in a small, general practice firm. I typically handle municipal matters, family law matters (pre and post-judgment), residential and commercial real estate transactions, small claims cases (eviction and collection), corporate formation, estate planning and probate. I also have a heavy guardian ad litem practice which includes appointments in guardianships, protective placement cases, CHIPS cases and pre and post-judgment family court cases. I was an assistant city attorney in the City of Shawano for approximatley 10 years. In 2018 I was elected city the attorney in the City of Shawano. I find myself in court almost every day.
Describe typical clients:
Many of my clients are local people seeking help from an attorney for the first time ever. It is typical for a potential client to walk in the office and ask to see an attorney immediately. Other typical clients are court-appointed guardian ad litem clients and municipal clients. I do not specialize in any particular area but I tend to have the greatest concentration of cases in "family law" and guardian ad litem matters.
Number of cases tried to verdict: 2 jury 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:
Shawano County Case No. 18 CV 55: Shawano Redevelopment Authority vs. Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy Institute of Science
In this case I represented the Shawano Redevelopment Authority. … The basic summary is as follows: The R.C. Samanta Roy Institute of Science is a group in Shawano that has a very volatile relationship with the city, staff, elected officials, and residents. Over the past 30 years, the group has purchased various parcels of real estate within the city and the allowed the parcels to sit vacant and crumble. The buildings have deteriorated and are unusable. Residents frequently complained about the state of the buildings. As city attorney, I was able to negotiate a settlement which allowed the city to take possession of the property located at 214 and 216 S. Main Street in Shawano. The settlement also required the group to repair another of its deteriorating buildings. This was a major win for the city and as a result, the city is optimistic that it may be able to work with the group in the future to acquire more of the deteriorating properties.
Shawano County Cases 12 JC 47 and 13 TP 01 … and Milwaukee County Case No. 13 CV 6089
In the cases set forth above, I represented a young lady … I was her guardian ad litem throughout. …
The basic summary is as follows: As a toddler, [she] was placed in foster care. She was shuffled through foster placements and relative placements (and between a couple of states) for several years. She eventually was placed with a foster family in western Shawano County. They adopted her. As [she] entered her teen years, she got into some minor legal trouble, but had significant problems with her adoptive family. Shawano County began a CHIPS case. [She] was once again placed in foster care. Her adoptive parents sought to terminate their parental rights, and did so, with the understanding that [she] would be re-adopted by her new foster family …
Shortly after the termination of parental rights, but before the adoption, the family [including the girl and other foster children] were in a terrible car accident. … Six of the eight people in the vehicle died. [The girl] lived, but had significant burns. A civil suit followed.
This case was significant to me for many different reasons. First, it was significant to me because it was one of my earlier CHIPS guardian ad litem cases. The case lasted several years, and eventually ended when [she] aged out of the system. I really felt connected to this case, due in part to the length but also to all the "ups and downs" that were associated with it. Notably, this was the first case I was involved in where parents were able to "un-adopt" a child. It was heartbreaking and frustrating, but in the end, it was in the best interests of the child
After the vehicle accident, a personal injury case was commenced on [her] behalf and I was involved in the personal injury case as her guardian ad litem. This was also significant to me because it was a completely new area of the law for me. Ultimately the personal injury case settled and [she] received a significant financial settlement. As [her] guardian ad litem, I was able to participate in a large mediation with the multiple claimants. A significant and beneficial settlement was attained on [her] behalf. Upon the completion of the mediation, I was able to assist with the creation of a plan to distribute the funds to [her] via a trust. When the trust was in place, I was able to participate in minor settlement hearing in Milwaukee.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
Early in my practice I appeared before administrative law judges as a public defender representing clients at probation revocation hearings. I would estimate that I took appointments in those cases for the first 3 or 4 years of my practice. Approximatley 10 years ago I appeared at a few hearings on Social Security Disability appeals before administrative law judges.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
In my family court cases where custody and placement are in dispute, the parents are referred to local mediation held at the Shawano County Department of Human Services. As a party attorney, I am not allowed to participate in the mediation session. Nevertheless, I have a good understanding of our mediator's process and I must prepare my client for the mediation session(s). I explain what the client should expect during the mediation process and then and assist my client with the preparation of the mediation parenting plan.
I have participated in many divorce mediation sessions that finalize as case settlement conferences. These sessions typically do not involve matters relating to children but involve contested financial matters. My firm has used other local attorneys to mediate cases. Prior to the mediation session I prepare a mediation summary/letter brief for the mediator setting forth my client's position. At the mediation session I advocate for my client.
Finally, I have had the opportunity to participate in a few personal injury mediations. Most notably was a case in which I was guardian ad litem for a minor severely injured in a vehicle accident. I was not the attorney in charge of the personal injury case, but I had the opportunity to make recommendations and negotiate on behalf of the best interest of the minor child.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: N/A
Previous runs for public office:
City attorney, Shawano, Wisconsin, elected April 2018 and April 2020 (2-year terms)
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years: N/A
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
Shawano Redevelopment Authority, board of directors, 2016-2018
Red River Riders, board of directors, 2013-2018
Shawano Area Community Foundation, board of directors, 2005-2012; scholarship selection committee, approximately 2010-2014
Waupaca County Bar Association, approximately 2006-present
Leadership Shawano County, participant and graduate, 2007
Shawano Youth League, concession volunteer, approximately 2008-2014
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
I have made it an important part of my practice to undertake pro bono legal work. Each year I take one divorce or family case as a pro bono case. These cases are typically very difficult cases. Two of the more recent cases I handled as pro bono were extremely complex. In both of those cases, my clients were very abused women; one physically and the other emotionally.
The first client had been beaten to unconsciousness by her husband and essentially left for dead. I assisted her through the divorce process … and I also attended several of her husband's criminal hearings just to provide some extra support. The second client was a woman who was divorcing her husband due to his extreme drug use … Her husband faked a terminal cancer diagnosis. The community held a "benefit" to support family. Husband then took the benefit money to support this drug habits. Soon after it was discovered that husband did not have any terminal, or even significant on-going medical issue. My client was humiliated because she too had been "duped" by her husband. I was able to assist her through the divorce process for free to help her ease her significant financial strain.
A significant portion of my volunteer experience has focused on my stepson and his athletic activities. For many years, my stepson was involved with the Shawano Youth Baseball League, the Shawano Hoops Basketball Program and the Shawano Community High School Football/Basketball/Track program. During all his sporting seasons my husband and I volunteered countless hours working at the concession stands/field maintenance/running the "book" etc. ….
In addition, I have also spent time serving on various volunteer boards and committees. I have been on the board of directors of the Shawano Redevelopment Authority, the Shawano Area Community Foundation and its scholarship decision committee. Finally, I was on the board of directors for the Red River Riders Therapeutic Horseback Riding for the Disabled. For that program I assisted in the set-up of a yearly fundraiser (called the Day at the Races) and their large, one-time fundraiser sponsored by the Green Bay Packers - the 2016 Tailgate Tour.
Why I want to be a judge -- I truly desire to serve the people of Wisconsin and particularly Shawano and Menominee Counties as its first female judge. I believe that I can bring a perspective to this circuit court bench that has never been here before: that of wife, mother, sister, and daughter. I also think that the people of Shawano and Menominee Counties would welcome the perspective of a woman in circuit court.
When I came to Shawano, I was the only "female" private practice attorney in the county. At times, I had interesting encounters with people who want to see "that lady attorney." I recall once telling a colleague that I felt like people were picking me the same way they would pick out a puppy. They were basing their decision on gender, rather than the skill. Over time, clients saw that I could stand out just fine against the local (male) attorneys.
My legal career has been successful and I am respected by my legal community. I believe that serving the role of judge my community is a logical and progressive step. I have always had clients come to me based on the recommendations of past clients. I have consistently been told that they were referred to me because I was kind and listened to client concerns, but that I was also firm and upfront with the strengths and weaknesses of any case. I would take that same approach to my role as judge.
I also believe I have many good ideas to better service our circuit court. As a judge, I would like to implement programs (or expand programs) that would aid those that appear before me. I know that many northern Wisconsin counties lack in providing treatment courts. I am interested in expanding our drug treatment court, which recently started in Shawano-Menominee County Branch II. I am also interested in pursuing other types of treatment courts, such as a veteran's court, a mental health court, and a court or court program that would provide alternatives to new offenders in juvenile justice referral cases. I believe that the trend for treatment courts will only increase in the future and I am more than willing to do whatever has to be done to see that happen.
As a judge, I would like to implement more frequent uses of alternative dispute resolution. Based upon my practice and knowledge of other legal practices near me, ADR is not widely used in this part of the state (north of Highway 29). A judicial implementation of a more regular mediation requirement would certainly serve to keep some cases out of the trial court docket.
I would like to see the introduction of a judicial court commissioner for ShawanoMenominee Counties. The introduction of a judicial court commissioner could also help reduce some of the caseload in the circuit court.
I am also willing to expand the use of technology in the circuit court to better serve court participants. Shawano-Menominee Circuit Court has not always been the most technology focused, and I would like to see technology used to expedite court matters. For instance, we could continue to use mediums like Zoom to expedite simple courtroom matters, even after the COVID threat is passed. Historically mediums like Zoom have not been used in any court matters in Shawano-Menominee other than closed-circuit tv appearances for criminal matters.
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.
A recent case that had a significant impact on the people of Wisconsin and also in my practice of family law is Michels v. Lyons 2019 WI 54. In this case, the Supreme Court vacated a circuit court order that gave a grandmother a set visitation schedule with her granddaughter, despite the objection of the two fit parents. The Court held that the application of the grandparent visitation statute, Wis. Stat. section 767.43(3), was unconstitutional as applied in this case.
This case was significant new caselaw as family law cases are not frequently heard by the Supreme Court and also because it was a family law case that involved a constitutional issue regarding the fundamental rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit.
This case was significant to the people of Wisconsin and attorneys practicing family law as well. From my personal practice perspective, I frequently take calls from "grandparents" or people in a similar relationship with a child, asking me to open a "grandparents' rights" case. I have generally stayed away from those types of cases as there are very narrow statutory guidelines in place for a person to pursue the grandparents and "parent-like relationship" cases. With the decision in this case, it has become extremely clear that the courts should give extreme deference to fit parents and the decisions that they make on behalf of the children. As a family law attorney this case proved helpful in providing me with guidance in advising potential clients to the likely outcome if the potential client wanted to pursue a grandparent visitation case.
As guardian ad litem, I recently was able to cite this case in a similar Shawano County grandparent visitation case. My case was like the Michels case, but distinguishable because the parents had been married and then divorced. Although the grandparents in my case were fine individuals who wanted a set schedule with visitation, the mother of the children was not interested in establishing any set visitation. The mother was perfectly fit but had burned a bridge with the grandparents. Although it may have been in the best interests of the children to have a relationship with the grandparents, the burden was even higher than best interests. Thanks in part to the Michels case, I knew that the court could not rule in favor of the grandparents. As such, the court denied the grandparent's motion and allowed the mother to determine what, if any, contact the children would have with the grandparents.
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
Judge Myron Heistad: Judge Heistad is a recently retired Shawano/Bonduel Municipal Court Judge. Myron is admirable for a variety of reasons. First, he is not an attorney as our local ordinance does not require the municipal court judge to be anything other than a resident of the municipality. Myron was not intimidated by the role and took great effort to learn the law and how to be a municipal court judge. Myron is an extremely genuine and kind man. He is devotedly religious and treats all who appear before him kindly. He clearly follows the Golden Rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. In the six years Myron was judge I can not recall one time he treated a defendant unkindly. Myron was always willing to give someone a chance, even those who I, as prosecutor, would not have extended that opportunity.
Judge Thomas Grover: Judge Grover was a circuit court judge in Shawano-Menominee County for many years. He was the presiding judge in Branch 2 when I came to Shawano in 2004. He was always very personable and friendly to me. He welcomed me to Shawano. He also called me "Kate" which is not a name I go by, but it worked out ok between the two of us.
I admire Judge Grover because he has said on several occasions that he does not have many regrets over the decisions he made in many years of being a judge. I think that type of personal confidence is powerful. Judge Grover also gave me a lot of "pointers" as a young attorney. He liked to talk to me about my family court work practice. He would give me "tips" for both my personal practice and my guardian ad litem practice. I always found his advice to be insightful and helpful. I appreciated all my conversations with him. I still see him from time to time at our local coffee shop and he still takes time to talk to me about work, my family, or whatever is on his mind. I appreciate his guidance and ongoing kindness.
The proper role of a judge:
The role of a judge has many different features. A judge must have the ability to listen to all relevant arguments and then consider the arguments as she applies the law. She must be open to hear all sides of a story but be in tune with the matter enough to know who is lying and who is telling the truth. The judge should treat all who come before her with respect, even those who are not respectable in return.
A judge must have patience but know when she has heard enough to be decisive. Likewise a judge has to make decisions, especially hard decisions, with authority and decisiveness. The judge must be able to move on to the next matter, keeping in mind that if she made a mistake in an earlier decision, there is a process available for the mistake to be fixed.
A judge should not have a big ego but should be aware that the decisions she makes can change a person's life forever. A judge must realize that it is her job to help the protect her community from danger.
Finally, a judge must enjoy a range of law, and find the subject matters interesting. In circuit court, a judge could see a range of matters from criminal, to family, to small and large claims, all in a matter of minutes.
Photo attributed to the website of Aschenbrener, Woods, Lamia, Schmid, Chereskin & Sloma, s.c.
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