Mary Wagner

Tough Enough?

The scene in the courtroom still haunts me more than a decade later. I remember the tears that sprang hot to my eyes as I shut the door behind me and walked down the corridor, thinking "I am not tough enough to do this job." I was a law student then, a seasoned criminal prosecutor now. And from time to time, out of nowhere, still comes that memory. It is seared into my consciousness, a testament to "collateral damage," and a mother's grief—two mothers, in fact—and consequences reaped by horrific acts, and how nothing in life, either evil or good,…

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Mary Wagner

Objects in the Rear View Mirror

The news of his death was nearly four years old, but it was still news to me. Earlier that day I had appeared in court for a routine set of “initial appearances” on some criminal cases, and had smiled to myself at how closely one of the defendant’s names resembled that of a boy—a young man, really—I had been in journalism college with. It had been a good fifteen years since I heard from him in the aftermath of a college reunion only one of us attended, our brief updates changing hands via email. He had become an acclaimed newspaper…

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Mary Wagner

Law School at Forty

The words are enough to strike terror into the hearts of most attorneys I know. They are the first words you speak when you address the Wisconsin Supreme Court in an oral argument. The words are ritual, standardized and formal. And I was about to say them myself…if I just didn’t faint. I have a framed photo on my desk at work. It dates from perhaps a year before I started law school at the age of forty, and only a few months before I would break my back in a riding accident, spend three painful months in a body cast, and have…

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Mary Wagner

Of Shoes and Strategy

They were “death on a staircase” shoes, and they stopped me dead in my tracks. Sleek leopard print brocade, with pointy toes, squared-off vamps, delicate sling backs, and spike heels that added a good three and a half inches to my height, these were definitely trophy shoes. I tried them on, but the questions I purported to be seriously asking myself as I strode back and forth in the shoe department glancing at the mirror from various angles—could I really wear them into a courtroom; what suit and accessories would they possibly go with; if I didn’t think I’d wear…

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Mary Wagner

Law & Disorder

The burly blond with the gold chains nestled in his chest hair sits in the stuffy conference room across the wood table, mulling his options. His wife—short, pert, neatly coiffed and crisply dressed—sits beside him, supportive, argumentative, loyal to a fault. He has been charged with disorderly conduct stemming from a violent evening a month ago when, according to her three-page hand-written statement to police, he scared the hell out of her and roughed her up. It made her—at least temporarily—regret the presence of his many guns in their house. She sits in front of me now to explain it…

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