Jessa Nicholson Goetz
Partner, Elite Defense Group
Principal, Nicholson Goetz & Otis, S.C.
Attorney Jessa Nicholson Goetz is the founding partner of Nicholson Goetz & Otis, S.C., based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is widely regarded as one of the most skilled sensitive crimes defense attorneys in the State of Wisconsin. In 2021, the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL) created an award to honor attorneys who successfully secured an acquittal on a felony sexual assault case (some of the most challenging cases to defend). Because of her career-long successes in defending and teaching on these types of cases, the award was named after Attorney Nicholson Goetz and two defense bar colleagues; today the Kuchler-Nicholson-Stilling Award is given each spring by WACDL and is a branding of one of the utmost achievements for any attorney to be named.
Attorney Nicholson Goetz has a passion for fighting for the wrongfully accused and the underdog and her colleagues, friends and family would agree that this started at a very young age, when she displayed a particular affection for the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys in the old Claymation Christmas movie. As she got older, the ability to see the world from the perspective of the wounded or misunderstood continued to be a preoccupation for Attorney Nicholson Goetz. Running back through the history of her life growing up, Attorney Nicholson Goetz recalls vividly reading In Cold Blood and being touched by the kindness Capote used to describe the two murderers in that story. Attorney Nicholson Goetz’s honors thesis in her undergraduate studies was about ancient funeral pots that were found in modern day Iran; she remembers that she
“found it to be an extraordinarily eye-opening experience to read about the ancient history of Persia from the perspective of Darius rather than the more Western view of Alexander the Great, because when the story is told that way, Darius is the hero and Alexander is the villain. That realization shaped the way I view the world immensely and is reflected in the sorts of non-fiction I read to this day (Howard Zinn’s work and the perennial updates of An Incomplete Education come to mind immediately, and most recently, the research I’ve been doing into women’s health/midwifery in the early United States.”
Attorney Nicholson Goetz’s career focus has been on defending individuals accused of the most controversial and serious felonies – including sexual assault (of adults and children), homicide, attempted homicide and child abuse. Attorney Nicholson Goetz began securing “not guilty” verdicts for her clients as soon as she stepped into the courtroom after law school and now holds one of the most successful trial records of any attorney in the state. She is a three-time recipient of WACDL’s Hanson Award, given only to attorneys who achieve the rare feat of securing an acquittal in a homicide case; Attorney Nicholson Goetz’s case that secured this award was a double homicide.
In addition to the national media attention Attorney Nicholson Goetz’s 2015 double homicide trial brought, she has handled a number of high-profile cases and is comfortable navigating the often complicated relationship between an accused person and the press. Nicholson has handled several cases that have garnered widespread media attention. Attorney Nicholson Goetz’s work has been discussed in The New York Times, she has been quoted as a legal expert in the Wall Street Journal as well as locally in both Wisconsin television and print media. Feature articles have been written about Attorney Nicholson Goetz in both the Wisconsin State Journal and the Capital Times, and she authored a column for Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine in 2013 discussing the challenging topic of representing an “unpopular” defendant in a high-profile case. She was retained by Channel 3000 to be their paid exclusive legal expert during the Rittenhouse trial, while also lending her perspective to National Public Radio’s nationwide audience.
Attorney Nicholson Goetz has also had substantial success litigating pre-trial motions, receiving favorable rulings with respect to piercing rape shield law, suppressing evidence, severing crimes/charges, and excluding prior bad acts, all of which have served to protect her clients’ rights to a fair trial.
Attorney Nicholson Goetz is consistently and regularly honored in her field – notable achievements include:
- Dane County Criminal Defense Lawyers Warrior Award, 2010, 2015 and 2018 given for particularly outstanding work in criminal cases;
- Martin Hanson Memorial Advocate’s Prize, for receiving not guilty verdicts in homicide cases in 2013,2015, and 2022;
- Super Lawyer designation since 2016, demonstrating she has been voted to be in the top 5% of criminal defense attorneys in the State of Wisconsin by her peers;
- Top 25 Lawyers in Madison (all practice areas), Madison Magazine.
Attorney Nicholson Goetz is regularly asked to teach Continuing Legal Education courses for other attorneys in her field. Attorney Nicholson Goetz has taught courses for the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Wisconsin State Public Defender, the Dane County Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association, the Wisconsin State Bar, and has guest lectured at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Attorney Nicholson Goetz is a faculty member at the Wisconsin Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Trial College and has recently been the faculty member that teaches on what is arguably the most dynamic part of a trial – closing arguments. Attorney Nicholson Goetz has been asked by Dane County judges to sit on committees to reform treatment courts in Wisconsin.
When Attorney Nicholson Goetz isn’t working, she still finds herself drawn to criminal law and legal issues. Attorney Nicholson Goetz coached high school mock trial for a number of years, and now acts a “judge” in both mock trial and moot court proceedings at the high school, college, and law school levels. She has acted as a consultant and received editorial credit from the hit audio drama podcast Deliberations and hosted a popular legal podcast herself for many years, Getting Off.