JANESVILLE - Judge James P. Daley is proud of the cost-saving measures and efficiencies he helped bring to court, and the fairness he brought to the bench. The Vietnam veteran had a penchant for order, keeping attorneys in line while being attuned to those trying to better themselves.
"In the criminal bench, you see very bad people and good people who had a really bad day. The art of this business is the sentencing, being able to make a just sentence based upon their history and goals of rehabilitation," Daley said.
Daley announced Tuesday he will retire on March 2, 2018 at age 70. Twenty-nine years ago, Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Daley as circuit court judge for branch 1 of the Rock County Circuit Court. At the time of his appointment, Daley was serving as Rock County's district attorney. On the bench, he has served in the criminal and civil divisions, presently serving as presiding judge for the criminal division.
From 1996 to 2015 he was presiding judge for the Rock County Circuit Court, working with the county board and county administrator to create a drug diversion court, a drunk driving diversion court and the first regional veteran's diversion court in the state of Wisconsin.
Diversion courts, Daley said, helped treat people with substance abuse issues and also took away the incentive for people to do crimes to support their habit. He attributed the drug, drunk driving and veterans courts, in part, with helping to lower the crime rates which declined in the county during the heart of the recession.
As a Vietnam veteran, formation of the Regional Veteran's Diversion Court was always close to Daley's heart. Many veterans come back from Iraq or Afghanistan with profound problems such as post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. Having once been treated for PTSD as a veteran himself, Daley said he knew what to look for and what questions to ask. Veterans, he said, need to be reconnected to what made them successful in the military - self-discipline, and working with others on goals and honesty.
Daley served in 1967-1968 in Vietnam as a Marine, never forgetting some of the men who were lost in his company. He was released from active duty from the Marine Corps in 1969, and enlisted in the National Guard in 1974 as a part-time soldier. He received a commission in 1977 as an officer and was called on active duty in 2003 and 2004 and retired in January of 2006 as a National Guard brigadier general.
Conscientious about spending and what made sense, Daley helped pioneer the creation of a collection clerk position, which allowed those facing fines to set up a payment plan which kept them out of jail and got fines collected. He helped create a criminal justice advisory committee to find alternatives to incarceration such as expanding the electronic monitoring program. He assisted with the decision to get retired police officers to serve as bailiffs/court attendants which was cost-saving for the county and kept sworn deputies out on the streets. As opposed to the expense of maintaining law libraries in Beloit and Janesville, Daley said public terminals were installed so people could access the digitized law libraries. A variety of guardian ad litems, who represent children's interests in family law cases, were previously hired by the county costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. By the county hiring its own guardian ad litems in a contract, it saved substantial funds.
"I always had a good working relationship with the judge. I worked with him closely on budget and operational issues," said Rock County Administrator Josh Smith. "He was always attentive, and willing to listen to suggestions on improving things. He's a very friendly guy and was always happy to listen if there was something you wanted to talk about."
In 2013 Daley was appointed as the chief judge of the Fifth Judicial Administrative District, the first time the position had been held a by a judge outside of Dane County.
Daley had plenty of lighter moments behind the bench, including the one time in his career he tried to pound the gavel and it broke in two.
Many times, cases would become difficult to watch.
Daley recalled heroin being a problem back in the 1970s, although it was usually isolated to a certain segment of the population. In more recent years, he's seen all types of people in his courtroom ravaged by the drug including a retired school teacher and plenty of working people.
While it used to be a disgrace to go to jail, Daley said it's become a rite of passage and quite normal for some young people.
"Jail is common. We accept certain conduct which used to shame us," he said.
As a judge Daley tried to reach those he could, trying to see what they had learned. However, there would always be some who would blame others.
Daley said he always mentored new judges coming in, stressing the importance of structure and leadership. When it came to attorneys, he made them meet requirements of timeliness and vigorous representation of their clients.
When asked what he would miss the most, Daley said it was the people, including fellow staff as well as those who passed through his courtroom. He loved the job. Even those who made some return appearances to his court, eventually learned something.
He recently recalled going to buy some batteries, where he bumped into a veteran who had passed through his courtroom who wanted to chat and the two shared a good laugh.
"No matter what, it's always good to see them," he said.
Once he retires, Daley has plans to write about someone who always remained on his mind - Marine Infantry Lt. George Norris, who lost his life in Vietnam.