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Court's Abrahamson To Discuss Women In The Law

February 22, 1999

Throughout her career Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has shared her views as both a judge and a pioneering woman in Wisconsin law.

She will address the history and role of women in the Wisconsin Bar and State Courts during a visit to UW-River Falls on March 23. She has set a public address, "Women in Law: A View From The Bench," from 2-3:15 p.m. in the North Hall Auditorium. Attendance is free and open to the public.

According to Glenda Morris, UW-RF special assistant to the chancellor on equity and compliance, Abrahamson's speech will be a "great opportunity to hear one of our premiere leaders." Morris, who is an attorney, is a member of the UW-RF Women's History Month activities planning committee that is sponsoring the event.

During her visit, Abrahamson will discuss personal observations made during her 23 years in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

She became the first woman to serve on the court and only the third to serve on any Wisconsin bench. In 1975, one year before Abrahamson was appointed to the court, women comprised only three percent of the Bar. Today that figure has risen to 25 percent.

Soon after Abrahamson's appointment other women across the country were appointed to high courts, including the Massachusetts Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court.

Abrahamson has been in Wisconsin law for 37 years. In the last 23 she has been a leader in a court system dominated by men. Throughout her career she has faced the challenges of her position and shared her experiences with others.

Morris says Abrahamson "has important things to say as a pioneering woman in our law history."

Abrahamson was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976 and was the only woman to serve on the court at that time. In 1979 she won her first election to the court and was re-elected in 1989 to a 10-year term. She was made chief justice in August 1996, the first woman to hold this position, and serves as the administrative leader of the judicial system throughout Wisconsin.

With the Supreme Court's six other justices, Abrahamson oversees the training, practices and court operations for 472 municipal, district and appellate court judges, and another 300 court employees.

They also set rules of professional conduct for Wisconsin's 18,600 licensed attorneys and the standards for admission to the Wisconsin Bar. The court oversees a judicial system budget of $91 million, as well.

Morris added that "members of the Bar should take this opportunity to meet with and hear one of their distinguished colleagues."

One of them is Hudson attorney Terrence Gherty, the treasurer of the Wisconsin Bar Association. Gherty offered that, "Chief Justice Abrahamson is well- respected. "Gherty added that it is "fun to listen to her talk and analyze issues. She is so smart."

Before joining the Supreme Court, Abrahamson was in private practice in Madison for 14 years. She also taught at the UW-Madison Law School.

Law review articles on criminal justice, juries, victim's rights, and the state constitution are several issues addressed by Abrahamson.

She has been a member of numerous boards and councils such as the U.S. Department of Justice DNA Advisory Board, the American Law Institute, and the American Judicature Society, where she has been vice president. She is also the Chair of the Planning and Policy Advisory Program that handles the long-range planning for Wisconsin courts.

Abrahamson has worked across the globe through the United States Information Agency. She has met with women's, lawyers', and judges' groups in countries such as Egypt, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

Originally from New York City, Abrahamson received her bachelor's degree from New York University in 1953. She went on to earn her law degree at Indiana and her doctorate of law at UW-Madison.

She has received 12 honorary doctor of law degrees and the Distinguished Alumni Award of the UW-Madison.

For more information about Abrahamson's visit, contact Professor Barbara Werner, women's studies program coordinator, at 715/425-4895.

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