This is one in an occasional series of profiles on the people behind the scenes who make Milwaukee work.
Piles of manila envelopes filled with court records are stacked on the desk, a labyrinth made of paper. At his desk sits James E. Wilson, assistant administrator for Milwaukee County’s Criminal Division of the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court. A pink highlighter in one hand and a criminal court record in the other, he is about to read a case.
Only after the seal is broken does Wilson know what he is up against. He may see a photo of the window a victim fell through. Or it might be an image of a dead child in the morgue.
Wilson manages the evidence for criminal cases that range from traffic citations to homicides. He is also in charge of the 40 deputy clerks who staff the 23 courts in the criminal division. He manages their training and said he makes sure each court is staffed with a competent deputy court clerk at all times.
Wilson has been in the position for eight years. He said he and his clerks are a close-knit group, but he always maintains a professional relationship with them.
Sarah Gunn, senior administrator in the circuit court clerk’s office, has worked with Wilson since he started the job. According to Gunn, Wilson is a dedicated and caring manager.
“Jim is able to balance the needs of his employees with the needs of the organization, (and) to ensure that we have adequate coverage to run the criminal courts,” Gunn said.
Chief Deputy Clerk of the Circuit Court James Smith praised Wilson’s work ethic and ability to balance professionalism with a sense of humor.
“He is a competent manager and works hard to help our staff reach their potential,” Smith noted. “He is very good at working with people of all backgrounds, education levels and positions within the court system.”
As much as Wilson enjoys his job, he said viewing the contents of criminal case files takes an emotional toll. Inside the evidence room, where the records are stored, guns, drugs and files fill the room from top to bottom. For Wilson, these objects are reminders of horrific stories.
“I have a hard time dealing with the murder, sexual assaults and the ugliness of our community,” Wilson said. “And that is all you see all day.”
Images of child victims are the most difficult for Wilson to handle. Having a daughter and nieces of his own, Wilson said he often relates the victims to his own family. Wilson keeps a picture of his nieces in a frame on his desk, and his phone shows a picture of his daughter at her wedding.
After reading records and looking at disturbing images day after day, Wilson still manages to remain positive. To cope with what he sees, he said he talks to his wife about certain cases, gardens and plays with his nieces. He does not watch the news.
“I already know,” said Wilson. “I know who died, and how they died.”
Wilson said he could not imagine himself doing anything else. He credits his father with teaching him to treat people the way he would want to be treated. The values his father instilled in him led to his career in public work, he added.
“Jim is the epitome of a public servant,” remarked Tammy Kruczynski, criminal division administrator. “His willingness to serve the public and provide excellent customer service is undeniable.”
When Wilson closes a record, he files it away on a shelf alongside the countless others that line the walls in the evidence room. But the stories stay with him.