What kind of work do you take on in your law practice?
I’m a solo practitioner, and I have a few private pay clients, but the vast majority of what I do is contract work for the public defender’s office. People who are eligible for the public defender get a free lawyer no matter what, and about two-thirds of those cases are handled by staff attorneys who are employed by the state. About another third will go to private counsel, which is what I do.
Did you ever think you would be doing public defense work?
Growing up in Sheboygan, I got the idea from cop shows and the news, and the way people talked, that the prosecutors are the good guys and the defense attorneys are a necessary evil in the system — why do we really spend money giving bad people a defense? Once I started doing it, that thought went away very quickly. You realize there is this entire system in place to process huge numbers of people through a system that really only has jail time as a possible penalty for all kinds of problems. It’s this machine and it really grinds up pretty much anyone who gets caught up in it, but it tends to catch up most often with people who are on the margins in some way.
What do you love about this work?
There’s something about just sitting down with someone who is in trouble, and getting to know them and being on their side, and not having to worry about anything else other than them. It’s such a privilege. I’ve always been a scrappy person. I like to argue. I hate bullies and I hate injustice, and there are so many opportunities to fight for people. People always have dignity and there is always a way that dignity is not being properly served. And even when you don’t win a case, people are so grateful. It really can change their whole perspective, just knowing there is someone in their corner.
Has this work led you to any insights about your faith life?
I work with a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and the Spanish word for lawyer is “abogada.” One of the titles for Our Lady in Spanish is “nuestra abogada” — “our advocate.” So actually, the Virgin Mary is a lawyer, if you think about it. When we’re being judged, whatever we’ve done, she’s going to plead with her son to forgive us.
What made you want to pursue a theology degree through the Cor Unum program?
I knew someone who taught in the program, and my friend Bill Lipscomb recommended it, so I applied. It was super affordable and a cool model. I loved every minute of it and I got so much out of it. I learned so much and I deepened my faith. I learned to think in a more abstract and philosophical way. When I went back to practicing law, I realized my way of expressing myself was more clear. I could hone in on issues and explain abstract topics better.
How did you and Matt meet?
I met him the very first time I walked into the St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center on the UW-Madison campus. He was the long-haired, guitar-playing, praise-and-worship music guy. I was like, “No, thank you. Why are they making us sing?” Two years later, we got married.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I do normal mom stuff; I love to go to the library, and I love to cook. I love making birthday cakes; each birthday, my kid will request something ridiculous and I try to honor it. I’ve done the crab from “Moana.” Most recently, I did a narwhal for my 3-year-old. I’m very amateur — it’s just supposed to taste good. But my kids are always very grateful, just like my clients.