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First Hispanic Judge in Dane County

By: Zac Schultz Email
By: Zac Schultz Email

Madison: Dane County's newest judge is sworn in, and he is the first person of Hispanic descent to assume the bench in this county.

Juan Colas says he is honored to be a judge for both professional and personal reasons.

Juan Colas doesn't want to be known as Dane County's Hispanic judge, but rather as a judge who is Hispanic. "I bring to being a judge everything that I am, and a part of what I am is an Hispanic person."

But Colas is not downplaying the significance of a man named Juan presiding over a courtroom. "It is an honor to the Hispanic community that their presence and importance in Dane County is now recognized by the appointment of a Hispanic to the bench."

Colas was born in Columbia. His family moved to the U.S. when he was five. His ethnicity has influenced his career. Fluent in Spanish, Colas started as a court interpreter, and as a public defender he tried to take as many Hispanic clients as possible.

He spent the last 15 years working at the Department of Justice, most recently prosecuting sexual predators.

He was appointed by Governor Doyle, whom he worked under when Doyle was Attorney General. The two are also friends. "He and I actually for a time played basketball together at the shell."

In his remarks Colas says he understands the challenges Hispanics face, even though he has not always faced them. "I am very much aware that though I am Hispanic, because I have white skin, because I speak English with an American accent, I have not felt the sting and indignity of the prejudice and discrimination that so many Hispanics bear."

But he says it was another Hispanic man who helped him realize how big this was to the Hispanic community. "I was taken aback by how moved he was by the symbolism of this appointment."

Colas is replacing Judge Angela Bartell, who is retiring. His term will last until April of 2009.

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