Rock County Judge James Daley said his hardest moments on the bench were early in his career, when he agonized over passing sentences.
“I was having a really rough time,” he said.
That was when Judge Patrick Rude gave him this advice: ”Jim, Jim, Jim, don’t you understand? Defendants sentence themselves. They bring with them the record of their lives and the crime they have been convicted of.”
Daley took those words to heart in the three decades he has sent criminals to prison, jail or probation. He said he has striven to give those people the dignity they deserved, even at that low point, and to give them a sense of hope that something good could come out of their lives.
Daley, 70, announced Tuesday that he will retire March 2.
Daley’s retirement will allow Gov. Scott Walker to appoint a replacement to serve the rest of Daley’s current term (until 2020) or to appoint a replacement and then set a special election in April 2019, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Board.
If Daley had retired before Dec. 1, the law would have triggered an election next April to replace him, Magney said.
Daley said he didn’t consider the political impact of his timing and said he is a strong believer that politics and the administration of justice should not mix.
“Too many people on the bench believe they’re in the judicial wing of the Democratic or Republican party,” he said.
Daley has strong views on many topics. He made a point over the years of asking those convicted of using heroin to identify their gateway drugs.
The answers have consistently been that about 40 percent started with opiate drugs, 40 percent marijuana and 20 percent alcohol, he said.
Daley said marijuana is not just a good-times drug, that it’s as dangerous as alcohol.
Studies have shown that it’s especially damaging at a young age, when it changes brain chemistry, he added.
Daley said he’s troubled at the trend of few jury trials because he believes some defendants are forced into a plea agreement—pleading guilty to a sometimes lesser charge or to get a lesser sentence—even when they didn’t commit the crime.
Lawyers in the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices will say they’re too busy to take on more trials, Daley said, but when he first started, a Rock County judge was hearing about 20 trials a year.
Last year, there were 28 for all seven judges, he said.
Daley is an Elkhorn native who served with the U.S. Marines in combat in Vietnam. He later served in the National Guard from 1974 to 2006, retiring as a brigadier general.
Daley graduated from Marquette Law School in 1981. He was a defense lawyer before becoming Rock County District Attorney in 1985.
Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Daley to the Rock County bench in 1989. He was last re-elected in 2014. He would have been up for re-election in 2020.
Daley is now presiding judge for the criminal division of Rock County Court. He was presiding judge for the entire circuit court from 1996 to 2015, when he worked with the Rock County Board and the county administrator to create a drug diversion court, a drunken-driving diversion court and the first regional veterans diversion court in Wisconsin.
Daley still presides over the veterans court.
Daley was appointed chief judge of the 5th Judicial Administrative District in 2013, the first time this position was held by a judge from outside of Dane County.
He ran unsuccessfully for state Supreme Court in 2015.
Daley said retirement plans include a trip on Route 66, something he and his wife have discussed for years. He also wants to visit and write about buddies from the Vietnam War.
Lona Black Koltick can trace the history of the United States through her family.
In 1608, she had a relative in Jamestown, home of the first successful English settlement in North America.
Another relative, who was too old to fight, repaired guns during the American Revolution.
After the Civil War, her great-grandparents moved from Ohio to Tennessee, where she guesses they kept a low profile.
“There was much bitterness in the South after the war,” Koltick said. “People from the north kept quiet about their origin.”
Sit with Koltick awhile and listen to her engaging family stories about grit and perseverance.
Like her, so many people do genealogical research, one of the most popular hobbies in the United States.
But few pursue their effort with Koltick’s diligence and passion.
In the era of ancestry.com, when insight into our ancestors is a computer click away, the 94-year-old Koltick recalls an earlier time when digging for family history required real legwork.
The Janesville woman spent 20 years scouring libraries, talking to people, visiting historical sites and courthouses and tromping in muddy cemeteries to track down information.
In the course of her work beginning in 1980, Koltick acquired about 855 genealogical items, including photos, clippings and writings. Most were attributed to the Black and Koltick families and 24 others.
A few years ago, she donated her genealogical materials to the Tennessee State Library and Archives because many of her ancestors can be traced to Tennessee.
Koltick was happy to see the fruits of her labor go to a safe place where others can benefit from her research.
This fall, the Tennessee State Library and Archives presented Koltick with a plaque in recognition of her contributions to preserving history.
“It can take many years to track down all of the records and documents necessary to prove a family line,” said Charles Sherrill of the Tennessee State Library.
He praised Koltick for not only gathering the information but also publishing it in two family histories, “My Heritage” in 1986 and “My Colonial Ancestry” in 1999.
Both are in the Wisconsin State Library and Archives in Madison and in many libraries throughout the country, including the world’s largest genealogical library in Salt Lake City.
The fact that Koltick donated the materials to the Tennessee archives “makes her part of a select group,” Sherrill said.
Koltick calls the honor “a highlight of my life.”
Her interest in family history began after retirement, when she started writing stories about living relatives in memoir style.
One day, her brother called her and asked her to find the marriage certificate of their great-grandfather.
Knowing nothing about genealogical research, Koltick went to the library and timidly asked the librarian how to find a marriage record.
She found the certificate, which revealed her great-grandfather was married to someone the family did not know.
“That stirred my curiosity and started me on my goose chase,” Koltick said. “One thing led to another until I finally solved the mystery. The mysteries I found along the way kept me searching for answers.”
Koltick’s husband, Joseph, died when she was 60. For the next two years, she devoted herself to writing her story.
“I was new at this, but I wanted to make my stories interesting by adding personal information about each person,” she said.
Koltick does not shy away from family wrinkles.
“Most people think their families are perfect,” she said. “That’s a lie.”
Koltick advises people new to genealogy to begin by writing down their family stories.
“They are priceless,” Koltick said. “They give us a peek into the human heart and soul of not only our family but the history of the human race.”
She called most family stories abbreviated and exaggerated.
“But there is a grain of truth in every story,” Koltick said. “You have to find it. Following these stories is like detective work.”
Koltick said family research gave her a deeper understanding of herself and her background.
“Doing the research has enriched my life,” she said. “It wasn’t work at all.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.