portrait of Marshall Murray ’75 sitting on the bench wearing judges' robes with a wood-paneled wall behind him

Life’s Work

Life’s Work

Marshall Murray ’75 was recently awarded the American Judges Association’s 2022 Judge Libby Hines Domestic Violence Award for his decades of work in the courtroom.

As the former head of the Milwaukee County DA’s Domestic Violence (DV) Unit, the Presiding Judge of the DV Courts and Presiding Judge of the Children’s Court Divisions, Murray leads three-day training sessions educating other judges worldwide on recognizing the signs of domestic violence from their unique perspective as judges. Bringing together teams of lawyers, child psychologists and judges, the three-day training sessions help explain “the dynamics of the behavior of the victim as well as the perpetrator,” Murray says, in a situation where most victims—primarily women—are silent. At the awards presentation in Philadelphia, Judge Hines said, “I have no doubt that Judge Murray has helped to make many communities in addition to his own, safer, and he has improved—or even saved—the lives of women and children across the United States.”

Murray’s focus on domestic violence grew out of a deeply personal moment. While serving as the Milwaukee County Judicial Court commissioner in 1996, he was participating in a training program to learn how to help law enforcement personnel deal with domestic violence, and he says he had a life-changing epiphany: “I’m not a perfect person—I have a controlling aspect to my personality. I’ve made mistakes in my life. And as I was talking to people, I recognized that an experience I had had with my son was about my behavior. It impacted my son and probably my daughters as well. And I had to get help for that.” So he worked with a therapist and eventually saw a way to use his own growth as a means to help others.

Murray’s route to becoming a judge was “all over the place,” he says. The son of Morgan State graduates, Murray hadn’t applied to any colleges in 1969 when he heard from Williams Admission Director Phil Smith ’55. Smith says Williams was in the midst of efforts to “remake the student body” by recruiting more Black students.

Smith encouraged him to apply, and Murray started in pre-med with ambitions of becoming a veterinarian. While a first-year student, he opened a store on Spring Street selling incense and records. The combination of this entrepreneurial effort, being a member of the men’s wrestling team, participation in the Black Student Union and his involvement with Vietnam War protests contributed to him falling behind on schoolwork. So he accepted the college’s offer to make up missed coursework in the fall of his sophomore year by taking six courses, which caused him to burn out. He left Williams for a year and a half.

When Murray returned, he decided to pursue political science, and he remembers a professor telling him he’d make a good lawyer. At the time, Murray says he thought, “Not me.” But, in 1982, his retail business was failing, and he decided on law school, earning a J.D. in 1986. Rising from a law clerk in Boston to an attorney for Social Services in Massachusetts, he began serving as a prosecutor with the Milwaukee County D.A.’s office in 1992. Throughout his law career, he has focused on areas of child custody and protection, sexual assault and domestic violence.

Portrait of Marshall Murray ’75 wearing a black judge's robe and standing in front of a bookcase full of legal books
Photograph courtesy of Judge Marshall Murray ’75.

Given his apparent lack of direction when he was younger, Murray says people are surprised when they find out he’s now a judge. He recalls an old friend calling him on the courthouse’s main number just to verify that the rumors she’d heard were true. And when he first told Smith what he does for a living, Smith pretended to have trouble with his hearing. Murray says, “Nobody was more surprised than I was when the governor appointed me” to the bench in Milwaukee in 1999.

He says it was an honor to be recognized by his colleagues with the Hines Award in August for his work—which includes lecturing for Future Without Violence’s Institute for Leadership in Education Development and serving as a national adviser to the Battered Women’s Justice Project. But he’s also encouraged by the day-to-day rewards he receives in the courtroom, like the time he was presiding over a probation review for a man who had been in court several times before. The man had been required to attend a violence intervention program and was smiling, Murray recalls: “And I said, ‘Why are you smiling today?’ He said, ‘I understand now. I get it. My behavior has impacted my family, my children—and I’m helping others to understand how their behaviors are hurting. So, I get it, judge.’

“I came down off the bench and gave him a hug. Because he was in front of all these other gentlemen, other perpetrators of these behaviors, hearing that you can change,” Murray says. “You can be a better person, you can be a good father, you can be a good spouse or significant other.

“I tell people in family court, you can move forward once you decide to forgive yourself for not being perfect—and forgive others for not being perfect,” he says. “Once you can forgive, you can move on.

“You can change.”

Top photograph courtesy of American Judges Association Education.

Regina Velázquez is an assistant editor and senior writer in the Office of Communications.