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The judge in the Rittenhouse trial gains attention from his courtroom comments

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Kyle Rittenhouse's homicide trial is wrapping up in Kenosha, Wis. Judge Bruce Schroeder has become the center of one of the nation's most-watched cases. Corrinne Hess from Wisconsin Public Radio has more.

CORRINNE HESS, BYLINE: At 75 years old, Bruce Schroeder is Wisconsin's longest-serving circuit court judge. He has a well-earned reputation of being no nonsense on the bench but also approachable. He focuses a lot on lunch. He tells a lot of stories. Sometimes they're about his wife. Sometimes they're about the law.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRUCE SCHROEDER: You know, I always give a little speech first about - well, they're often about me, and I'm going to make this one about me, too.

HESS: But the nation got to see another side this week - the law purist. Many people wondered if Schroeder crossed a line with his repeated angry exchanges with lead prosecutor Thomas Binger.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCHROEDER: Don't get brazen with me.

HESS: Those scoldings have contributed to concerns about his fairness. This case has been controversial from the start. The defendant, Kylw Rittenhouse, is charged with several felonies, including homicide for fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during a chaotic night of protests against police brutality. Rittenhouse has maintained he was forced to shoot to protect himself. Schroeder made controversial pre-trial decisions to not allow the three people shot to be called victims. At the same time, he concluded they could be referred to as rioters, looters and arsonists during closing arguments. This decision contributed to the view that Schroeder is biased.

CECELIA KLINGELE: This is a case that brings to the fore a lot of matters of public concern - gun rights, the use of force by police officers - and it makes sense that people are paying attention then to what's happening in the courtroom and the manner in which conversations are occurring.

HESS: That's Cecelia Klingele, a law professor at UW-Madison. She says judges and attorneys argue a lot, and during trials, there are theatrics. As a judge, Schroeder has the right to rule as he chooses. Daniel Adams is a former Milwaukee County assistant district attorney. He says media and others have mistaken both the defense and the state to be on equal ground, but that's not how the legal system works. The defense's right must be protected.

DANIEL ADAMS: The judge is the ultimate protector of someone's individual right to a fair trial and due process. So if it appears that there's any tilt, it's for a good reason.

HESS: But some legal experts wonder if that protection has gone too far. Jeffrey Schwartz was a judge in Miami-Dade County for more than a decade. He says the prosecution has made missteps over the last two weeks, but he's critical of Schroeder's conduct.

JEFFREY SCHWARTZ: I think he was wrong on a number of decisions that he made.

HESS: Schwartz now teaches law at Western Michigan University. He thinks that if Rittenhouse is acquitted, it will be because of Schroeder's decisions.

SCHWARTZ: His failure to reconsider them I think was prideful. So I have some real problems with this judge and the way that he has done things. He's just basically to me kind of a loose cannon.

HESS: Closing arguments in the trial are expected Monday.

For NPR News, I'm Corrinne Hess in Kenosha, Wis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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