Crowd turns out for swearing in of first female Rock County judge

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Friday, August 3, 2012

— It was a year ago at a diner on Janesville's east side when Rock County Court Commissioner Barbara McCrory let her daughter in on a secret.

She wanted to run for judge.

Cait McCrory, now 14, put down her fork and gave her mother a look.

"Mom, you've gotta get out of your comfort zone," she said.

McCrory did.

She won the general election in April, and in front of a standing-room-only crowd on Thursday afternoon, she was sworn in as Rock County's first female judge.

McCrory's husband of 27 years, lawyer Marc McCrory, made a formal motion to appoint her to the position. Presiding Judge James Daley granted the motion with a smile and formally swore in McCrory to her new job.

Members of McCrory's family filled the jury box in the county board room. Cait and her brothers, Ryan and Dan, helped their mom into her new black judge's robe.

Had McCrory not told the story about Cait urging her to run for office, members of the audience might not have known McCrory had stepped out of her comfort zone. She made her oath and delivered her speech in a clear voice that didn't shake.

After promising to uphold the Constitution and fulfill the duties of the office to the best of her ability, McCrory recognized the team effort it took to get her into the office.

"This is not a position I have come to on my own," McCrory said.

She thanked her family, courthouse staff and the sitting judges, including retiring Judge James Welker. The judges helped her settle in to her new office on the fifth floor of the Rock County Courthouse, McCrory said.

"Even Judge Fitzpatrick, when I accidentally parked in his spot yesterday, was very gracious about it," McCrory said.

During the move from her fourth-floor office to the judicial offices, McCrory found her diploma from her 1993 graduation from the University of Wisconsin School of Law. When she opened it, out fluttered her diploma from fifth-grade graduation at Rockwell Elementary School in Fort Atkinson.

She ended her speech by reading the note on the diploma from her teacher.

"Having ability is a responsibility not to be taken lightly," McCrory read.

She looked up.

"I promise not to take it lightly," she said.

Then, with a smile, McCrory banged a gavel and dismissed court to cake and punch.


Judge Barbara McCrory marked her historic role as the county's first female judge by reading from Wisconsin case law about one of the women pictured on the mural on the front of the Rock County Courthouse: lawyer Lavinia Goodell.

Goodell was the first woman to practice law in Wisconsin. She was admitted to the bar in 1874 in Rock County, according to Wisconsin Historical Society records.

A year later, Goodell applied for permission to practice in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where she wanted to appeal a case. In 1876, her application was denied, according to Historical Society records.

Then-Chief Justice Edward Ryan's judgment against Goodell's application was written in passionate language that today would be considered sexist beyond a reasonable doubt.

McCrory read part of Ryan's judgment from Volume 39 of "Wisconsin Reports."

"The peculiar qualities of womanhood," Ryan wrote. "Its gentle graces, its quick sensibility, its tender susceptibility, its purity, its delicacy, its emotional impulses, its subordination of hard reason to sympathetic feeling, are surely not qualifications for forensic strife."

In 1877, a bill was passed allowing women be admitted to the state bar. In 1879, Goodell renewed her application to the Supreme Court and was admitted, according to Historical Society records.

She died of cancer in 1880 shortly after learning she had won her appeal.

Last updated: 4:31 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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