Evers' judges: Kori L. Ashley
"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 indicates direct quotes from the application.
Name: Kori L. Ashley
Appointed to: Milwaukee County Circuit Court
Appointment date: June 5, 2020 (elected April 2021)
Law School – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Undergraduate – DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
High School – Divine Savior Holy Angels, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Recent legal employment:
August 2016-present – Legal Action of Wisconsin
February 2013-October 2016 – Alex Flynn and Associates, Milwaukee
Bar and Administrative Memberships:
Wisconsin State Bar
Eastern District of Wisconsin
Western District of Wisconsin
General character of practice:
Public interest attorney in Legal Action of Wisconsin's Milwaukee office and its "Road to Opportunity Project," representing low-income persons in proceedings to remove civil legal barriers to employment. Legal issues include civil proceedings such as petitions for expungement, driver's license restoration, municipal court representation, and administrative requests to the DOJ Crime Information Bureau.
Work includes administering two grants, the Juvenile Reentry Project (JRAP), and Milwaukee Municipal Court Project. The JRAP grant involved representing youth up to age 25 in matters pertaining to the expungement of records, mitigation of court date, and housing matters. The project's goal was to ensure that young people had sufficient opportunity to find gainful employment. The Milwaukee Municipal Court Project involved representing low-income people who received job hindering tickets such as retail theft, possession of marijuana, and disorderly conduct in Milwaukee Municipal Court.
Earlier Legal Action of Wisconsin work included its Shiffra/Green Project, a DOJ funded grant enforcing the privacy and safety rights afforded to crime victims pursuant to Wisconsin Chapter 950.
Describe typical clients:
Legal Action is a non-profit law firm that provides civil legal aid to persons at either 125% or 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. The firm's Elder Rights Project is the only specialty area that is not subject to those income limitations.
Currently, my clients have all virtually had some contact with the criminal justice system resulting some type of conviction record for either a felony, misdemeanor, or civil offense. I specialize in employment law – specifically as it pertains to the mitigation conviction records. The majority of my clients are African American, and reside in Milwaukee County. My client ages have ranged from as young as 11 years old to clients well into their 70's. Most recently, many of my clients have suffered from severe mental health issues, which has resulted in my coordinating with treating physicians and case mangers to ensure comprehensive representation,
Number of cases tried to verdict: Two, plus co-counsel on five cases while with Alex Flynn and Associates.
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:
My most recent significant case originated as a fingerprint removal request to the Department of Justice's Crime Information Bureau requesting removal of various arrest cycles from a client's criminal history report that neither resulted in a charge, nor conviction. After the request was denied, I filed an appeal of the decision to Milwaukee Circuit Court pursuant to Wisconsin Statute 227. The court, the Honorable William Pocan, ruled in my client's favor, and ordered DOJ to remove the requested cycles from my client's background report finding that DOJ erred in its interpretation of Wisconsin Statue 165.84(1). The DOJ appealed the court's decision in November of 2018. District II of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the matter on December 17, 2020. The case is currently awaiting the court's decision. I am lead counsel on the case and have been involved since the initial fingerprint removal request in October of 2017.
The case is one of first impression. The question presented is whether a municipal conviction involving a charge arising months or years before an arrest on a wholly unrelated criminal matter prevents the return of the fingerprint record when the individual is not convicted of the criminal offense in question. The circuit court answered, No – and found that there must be a "nexus" that links a charge and arrest beyond the two being listed on a single fingerprint card. Practically – this meant that for my client, an arrest for second degree sex assault, and possession of electronic weapon – two offenses that he was not charged or convicted of have been removed from his background report. It goes without saying that these aggravated offenses were hindering his job and housing opportunities. This decision stands to clarify an area of the law that is critically important to those seeking employment, housing and educational opportunities who have had contact with the criminal justice system.
WJI note: The Court of Appeals heard oral argument in December 2019, not 2020. It ruled in favor of Ashley's client, Demonta Anthony Hall, in February, 2020, shortly after Ashley applied for the judgeship.
During my time representing crime victims in the firm's Shiffra/Green project I represented a client in Juneau County who had a host of family law issues. Her child's father was in constant violation of a domestic abuse restraining order and in spite of being criminally charged for the violations, the behavior continued. To get around the restraining order, he used the family court order, which did not have parity with the restraining order to have additional, inappropriate, contact with her. I filed a motion in family court to ensure that the same restrictions to their contact that existed within the restraining order were also in the family court orders. I also sought a contempt order for the flagrant violations of a temporary order put in place shortly after the motion was filed. The case ultimately proceeded to a 3-day trial on the modification request. At the conclusion, the court found the respondent in contempt of the temporary order, and issued an order ensuring that the restrictions within the restraining order applied to the family court order. My client … could not afford a private attorney to assist her in navigating this process. This case is a great illustration of why civil legal aid is so important, especially as it pertains to victims of crime.
I was lead counsel in Racine County Case No. 2014CMD00977 where our client was charged with 171 counts of mistreatment of animals. Due to the volume of charges, the case received significant media attention. The case was incredibly complex, involving the use of multiple experts … (and) multiple motions to dismiss, suppress, as well as a motion for a bill of particulars. The suppression motion, which I argued, resulted in 47 of the counts being dismissed. Ultimately, the case resolved shortly before the scheduled trial, and our client pled guilty to three counts of shelter violations and received a sentence of probation. The client was facing a potential prison sentence based on the volume of counts in the criminal complaint. It was incredibly satisfying to reach a disposition which allowed her to maintain her freedom.
Experience in adversary proceedings before administrative bodies:
Attorney Celia Jackson and I represented a federal employee in a discrimination case before the EEOC in 2016. The client alleged discrimination based on race, and gender. The case resulted in multiple depositions and ultimately a trial before Administrative Law Judge Deborah Powers. The court found in our client's favor on one claim.
Describe your non-litigation experience (e.g., arbitration, mediation).
While in private practice, represented clients with federal civil rights and 1983 claims that involved multi-party mediations, as well as personal injury cases resolved through mediation.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization: N/A
Previous runs for public office: None listed
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last ten years: None listed
Professional or civic and charitable organizations:
— Milwaukee Bar Association, member
— Golda Meir High School Mock Trial Team, coach, 2018-present
— Shriver Center’s Racial Justice Training Institute, fellow, April 2017-November 2017
Significant pro bono legal work or volunteer service:
Co-chair of Project Street Youth, a free legal clinic at Pathfinders, serving homeless youth.
Mentor with the Eastern District of Wisconsin's Bar Association. Each year I am assigned a high school student to mentor, typically a young woman of color, who has an interest in pursuing a career in law.
My favorite volunteer activity is coaching the Golda Meir High School Mock Trial Team. I started coaching in 2018 after discovering a lack of diversity amongst the teams competing in the State Bar Mock Trial Competition. In February of this year, the team competed in the State Bar's competition, and I could not have been more proud of their performance.
Why I want to be a judge – Perception matters. A judge interpreting the law in a Milwaukee County Circuit Courtroom will unavoidably draw from their personal experiences to inform the discretion they use in sentencing. It is important that people interacting with our judicial system believe they are being treated fairly and compassionately. This perception especially matters to people in vulnerable populations who feel like the judicial process is less fair to them because of their socio-economic class, or the color of the presiding judge’s skin.
Everyone is influenced by their personal opinions and experiences. Implicit bias, a term used to describe this influence, is a subject I studied thoroughly as a Fellow at the Shiver Institute in Chicago. I am now one of a select few attorneys in the State of Wisconsin certified in the management of Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. And I believe that this trained perspective will be a great addition to the bench, and to casual conversations amongst judges and justices. My training prepared me on how to notice and redirect implicit biases that may be harmful to individuals that may appear before me in court, and it prepared me to share my training with my colleagues at work through meaningful educational exercises.
As an attorney, I have often observed the sigh of relief and look of hope that my African-American clients have when they are assigned a black attorney or a black judge. There is a perception that “I will empathize with their circumstances” based on a few key shared experiences amongst African-Americans - even if their conclusion is true or not.
Many of the current judges are former prosecutors. And we need their perspectives on the law on the bench. We need the perspectives of the defense bar on the bench as well. Wisconsin has a mass incarceration problem. And this exists even though a significant number of our laws allow a judge, when appropriate, the discretion forego incarceration entirely in the administration of their sentences. I’ve seen the mass incarceration problem first-hand. I have seen the damage incarceration does to an individual, their family, and their community. I’ve heard the stories, and I’ve seen the detrimental legacy it can create. Fortunately, I have also seen people get a variety of different sentences like mental health services, probation, and community service, and witnessed an individual become a productive member of society after being given a more reflective sentence. I want to serve the people of Wisconsin by providing sound judgment rooted in statutory and constitutional case law and have the opportunity to administer justice according to our laws without allowing harm to our communities.
I want to serve the citizens of Wisconsin as a Circuit Court Judge because I have the personal experience, professional experience, and education, to be a thorough, decisive and compassionate jurist.
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.
Education is a major gateway to opportunity in the United States. San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dis/rid v. Rodriguez sanctioned inequality in educational opportunities for students and paved the way for future similar decisions, like Kukor v. Grover and Vincent v. Voight in Wisconsin.
The United States Supreme Court notably held that education was not a fundamental right. Furthermore, the Court held that there was no equal protection violation in this case, and the state must only provide a basic education to its students. Similarly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined in Kukor v. Voight that the state must only provide an equal opportunity to a basic education that ensures that students are proficient in major subjects.
Neither the United States Supreme Court, nor Wisconsin Supreme Court took issue with the clear expenditure disparities between poor urban and wealthy suburban school districts. They also ignore studies that show that poorer districts struggle meet the educational needs of its students. As Justice Marshall wrote in his powerful dissent " ... the right of every American to an equal start in life, so far as the provision of a state service as important as education is concerned, is far too vital to permit state discrimination…”
State funded school systems should provide the type of education that will give young people in the state of Wisconsin an equal opportunity for success. Being fair in this vital state service will help to decrease the achievement gaps observed in Wisconsin, and increase the skill level of our workforce.…
Electronic databases can produce criminal background reports that are regularly used by landlords and employers to evaluate a person’s qualifications. The DOJ’s Crime Information Bureau (“CIB”) maintains the electronic database used to produce these reports in Wisconsin. In Teague v. Schimel, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recognized for the first time a citizen’s right to obtain a judicial review of the accuracy of the criminal history reports that the Department of Justice sells to the public.
This decision affirmed that the citizens of Wisconsin have a protected liberty interest in their good names and reputations. Justice Kelly emphasized the importance of one's name and reputation, and the burden that an inaccurate CIB places on an individual. Inaccurate background reports create financial, educational, social, and political roadblocks to opportunity that often cannot be overcome and hinder a person’s ability to be a productive member of our State. The decision gives our citizens a remedy for improving the accuracy of their criminal background reports.
"Many of the current judges are former prosecutors. And we need their perspectives on the law on the bench. We need the perspectives of the defense bar on the bench as well. Wisconsin has a mass incarceration problem." – Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Kori L. Ashley
Two or three judges whom I admire and why:
Words fail me as I try to describe the impact that Chief Shirley Justice (sic) Abrahamson had on the court, Wisconsin and on the advancement of female lawyers. I arm myself with Chief Justice Abrahamson words “If you are in a situation where you’re the only one and feel kind of excluded, they have to look at you. So don’t deal with that by absence, deal with that by attendance.” Justice Abrahamson’s words encouraged me to use those opportunities and not to shy away from them seeking the comfort of the familiar. This is one reason why I ran for and was elected by my peers to represent District 2, on the WI State Bar Board of Governors. I attended a meeting and was quite frankly, taken aback by the lack of diversity. I took the opportunity to “make them see me” and spent my time on the board working to increase board diversity and encourage inclusivity. I sat on a special committee that specifically created a Diversity Inclusion Action plan for the Bar to address these issues and create a meaningful plan that provides accountability, so that the Bar can over time assess its progress. Now, two years later, I Chair the Board.
Chief Justice Abrahamson’s comprehensive, holistic approach to statutory interpretation recognizes the reality that the laws that judges interpret have real life implications is something I will try to emulate. Her work ethic and legal prowess is unparalleled, but beyond her skill as an attorney and judge I am awed by her ability to have accomplished all of this while raising her son. As a mother of an 8-month old, it is often suggested that women have to choose between career and family; I am encouraged by women, like Chief Justice Abrahamson who rejected that narrative.
I once had an elderly woman approach me during a community event and tell me about her grandson who was recently sentenced to a term of incarceration. She talked at length about how the judge spent time with her grandson talking him through his sentence, and challenging him to be better for his family. She was moved by the compassion and understanding the judge showed that day. She asked me to thank Judge Carl Ashley. I have heard many stories like this about my uncle. He is unquestionably one of the hardest working judges that I know – a student of new case law and precedent with his finger on the pulse of his community. He has been a staunch advocate of ending mass incarceration and catalyzing strategic alternatives such as drug court that led to measurable changes. He has shown a dedication to fostering diversity with an emphasis on inclusion in the legal profession. He calls it like he sees it, and does so in a way that does not create division, but encourages discourse. If appointed to this vacancy, I could only hope to be the type of judge that he has been for more than 20 years.
The proper role of a judge:
When asked to describe the proper role of a judge, I am guided by Chief Justice Abrahamson’s view which states “that a judge must be detached in the sense that they must place their allegiance to the rule of law and the judicial institution above their personal considerations and predilections, while at the same time interested in and concerned about the lives of the litigants who appear before them.” Indeed I agree with the Chief Justice that a judge, who is disengaged from the real world, cannot fully understand how his or her decisions will play out in that world. Judges interpret the meaning of laws – but they do so through the prism of their own experiences. If I am considered for elevation to the bench, my approach will be to listen to the facts, follow the law and allow humanity to permeate my decisions.
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