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WJA 2021: Kate Schaefer

A career prosecutor before her 2018 election to the bench, Circuit Judge Kate Schaefer now presides over a range of civil and criminal cases from the St. Joseph-based circuit.

schaefer-kateThe diversity of her workload continues to keep the job fresh — especially after a caseload that included many cases of child abuse, neglect and sexual assault as an assistant prosecuting attorney for 15 years.

“It’s a completely different mindset,” said Schaefer.

She opted to seek office after the retirements of both Buchanan County prosecutor Dwight Scroggins, who’d been in office 28 years, and senior Circuit Judge Randall Jackson, whom Schaefer also singles out as a mentor.

“I thought, ‘This is my chance to use what I’ve learned, not just as a child abuse prosecutor but as a trial attorney,” she said. “I really felt like that was my opportunity and that was my time.”

The St. Joe native received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from hometown Missouri Western State University before heading west for law school at Chapman University in southern California.

The lure of the left coast didn’t last long, said Schaefer, who loved the Orange County weather but longed for friends, family and familiarity half a continent away.  She returned not just home but to an office where she’d worked as both an intern and victim’s advocate prior to law school.

“I took the California Bar, passed it and then moved straight back home,” she said. “I didn’t have any family there and didn’t have a sense of connection.”

A mother of three children, ages 10, 13 and 15, Schaefer said her work with childhood victims couldn’t help but influence her as a parent, and vice versa.

“It helps a lot to have raised a child,” she said. “But my kids would say it probably made me a more cynical and harder parent to deal with.”

Among her professional highlights, Schaefer lists her work with child abuse and domestic violence victims and cases she worked on that contributed to case law still used to train attorneys working in domestic violence.

Better still is seeing the children she once prepped for trial now leading stable lives in adulthood, including a young woman whom she recently encountered at a local restaurant.

“She doesn’t remember me,” Schaefer said. “But I’ll never forget her.”

Women's Justice Awards 2021