By Nathan Layne and Lisa Shumaker KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – While the spotlight has focused on U.S. teenager Kyle Rittenhouse and the three men he shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the judge in the case has at times taken center stage in the murder trial. Throughout the two weeks of testimony, Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder […]
Factbox-‘Don’t get brazen with me’: Who is the judge in the Rittenhouse murder trial?
By Nathan Layne and Lisa Shumaker
KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – While the spotlight has focused on U.S. teenager Kyle Rittenhouse and the three men he shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the judge in the case has at times taken center stage in the murder trial.
Throughout the two weeks of testimony, Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder and the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, have clashed.
The two could go head-to-head again on Monday when closing arguments start. Each side will get 2-1/2 hours to address the jury.
Schroeder’s instructions to the jury could also play a prominent role in the most high-profile civilian self-defense trial since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in Florida in 2013.
So who is the judge presiding over the Wisconsin case?
Schroeder, 75, received both his bachelor’s and law degree from Marquette University, a private Jesuit school in Milwaukee, according to media reports. He served as Kenosha County’s district attorney before going into private practice. In 1983, he was appointed to the court and is the longest-serving active judge in Wisconsin’s trial courts, according to the reports.
He ran unopposed for office in 2020 for a six-year term.
The trial has provided some glimpses into his personality. On Veterans Day, he asked everyone to give a round of applause to those who served in the military. The judge then asked if anyone in the courtroom had served. Only one person indicated they had, a witness for the defense.
At multiple times throughout the trial, the judge’s cell phone has sounded with the ringtone of “God Bless the USA.”
As the court was preparing to break for lunch on Thursday, Schroeder joked about Asian food.
“I hope the Asian food isn’t coming … isn’t on one of those boats from Long Beach Harbor,” Schroeder said, referring to the Port of Long Beach, a major gateway for U.S.-Asian trade experiencing congestion and delays.
The comment prompted criticism from groups working for racial equity such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
YES TO LOOTERS, NO TO VICTIMS
Before the start of the trial, the judge ruled that the three men shot by Rittenhouse could be called looters and arsonists, if the evidence supported those descriptions, while banning the word victim to describe them, as he said was customary in his courtroom. He told prosecutors to call them “complaining witness” or “decedent”.
“This is a long-held opinion of mine, which very few judges, I guess, share with me,” Schroeder said.
‘DON’T GET BRAZEN’
Rittenhouse testified in his own defense last week, saying he opened fire with his AR-15-style rifle to protect himself after being attacked.
Twice during cross-examination, Schroeder asked the jury to leave the courtroom and then sharply admonished Binger for his line of questioning.
The judge excoriated Binger for asking Rittenhouse about his decision to remain silent after his arrest, as was his right, and about a video recorded two weeks before the shootings in which the teen talked about shooting men he thought were shoplifting at a pharmacy.
Schroeder had already ruled the video inadmissible. He erupted at Binger after the jury left the courtroom.
“When you say you were acting in good faith, I don’t believe you,” the judge said to Binger. At one point, he barked at Binger: “Don’t get brazen with me!”
The defense made a motion for a mistrial. The judge said he would consider the matter, but let the trial proceed.
The tensions resurfaced on Thursday when Binger argued against a defense attempt to present an updated report from use-of-force expert John Black, who took the witness stand to analyze video of the shootings. Binger said the report contained evidence the judge had already ruled could not be admitted.
“Yesterday I was the target of your ire for disregarding your orders. Today the defense is disregarding your order,” Binger said, adding that “fundamental fairness” was the issue at stake. “If I’m being held to obey the court’s orders, I’m asking that the defense be held to that to.”
Schroeder responded: “I was talking yesterday about the Constitution of the United States,” referring to Rittenhouse’s right to remain silent. “That’s not what we are talking about here today.”
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; editing by Ross Colvin)