Jessa Nicholson

Jessa Nicholson

Madison, Wisconsin

Attorney Jessa Nicholson has been in private practice since 2006.   Nicholson attended the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor and graduated magna cum laude with Bachelors of Arts degrees in Economics and History of Art.  During her years at Michigan, Nicholson worked full-time as an Advocate Worker at the Domestic Violence Project/SAFE House, a shelter providing respite and transitional services to victims of domestic violence, including:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Housing assistance
  • Group and individual counseling services
  • Legal advocacy and assistance with restraining orders, criminal cases, and family court proceedings


Nicholson then attended law school at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, where she received a Juris Doctorate with cum laude honors.  During law school, Nicholson was awarded special recognition for outstanding academic achievement in Family Law I, and participated in clinical trial skills programming, including an internship with the Kenosha County Public Defender's Office.  While working in Kenosha, Nicholson assisted in organizing the exploratory committee that ultimately formed the Kenosha County Restorative Justice project.  Nicholson also was named on the Dean's List of academic achievement in the fall of 2003. 

After starting her firm, Nicholson worked hard to quickly gain trial experience, winning her first bench and jury trials within the first eight months of her practice.

Criminal and Traffic Defense Practice

Nicholson has represented over 1,000 adults and juveniles accused of crimes and traffic offenses, with trial experience ranging from traffic ticket defense to homicides throughout the state of Wisconsin.   She has tried over two dozen cases to jury and had numerous bench trials in juvenile court. Ms. Nicholson has earned verdicts of "not guilty" in over 50% of her cases resolved at trial (most counties in Wisconsin maintain conviction rates of over 90%).  

Nicholson has received verdicts of not guilty in a variety of cases, including:

  • Misdemeanor Battery
  • Misdemeanor and Felony Bail Jumping
  • Misdemeanor Intimidation of a Victim
  • 4th Degree Sexual Assault
  • 1st Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety
  • Aggravated Battery
  • Disorderly Conduct w/Dangerous Weapon
  • Extortion/Threats to Injure
  • OWI
  • Child Enticement
  • Substantial Battery
  • Felony Intimidation of a Witness.


In addition to these acquittals, Nicholson is particularly proud of her work in sensitive crimes, specifically:

  • Receiving a verdict on a lesser-included offense in lieu of a 1st Degree Intentional Homicide charge, allowing that client to avoid a life sentence
  • Receiving verdicts of acquittal in multiple cases of 1st Degree Sexual Assault of a Child and 2nd degree Sexual Assault of a Child
  • Receiving acquittals for OWI Homicide and Homicide/Use of Controlled Substance


Additionally, Nicholson has negotiated non-prosecution agreements or outright dismissals prior to trial in cases of Hit and Run, 2nd Degree Sexual Assault - Use of Force, 2nd Degree Sexual Assault - Intoxicated Victim, 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, OWI, Disorderly Conduct, Receiving Stolen Property, and Battery case.

Further cases of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault, Possession With Intent To Deliver THC, and Simple Possession of THC have been dismissed as a result of pre-trial motion litigation.  

Nicholson has received professional acclaim in the field of criminal defense. Most notably,  she received the Warrior Award in 2010 from the Dane County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which is presented to one attorney annually for their outstanding work in the field of criminal defense.  Nicholson was the youngest attorney on record to receive the award.  Nicholson was also presented with the Martin Hanson Memorial Advocate's Prize from the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2013.  The Advocate's Prize is an exclusive award given only to criminal defense attorneys who receive verdicts of not guilty in homicide cases.  She has been named one of Wisconsin's Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association for 2014.

Nicholson has been featured in cover stories in the Wisconsin State Journal regarding her work in a self-defense homicide trial and the Capital Times for her representation relating to GPS monitoring bracelets for sex offenders.  She has been quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal, the Richland County Observer, and Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine.  Additionally, the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine has published a 10 questions interview with Jessa Nicholson On Defending an Unpopular Client in a High-Profile Trial.   She has also been featured as a legal commentator on WKOW 27 News and Wisconsin Public Radio

Nicholson has given presentations to colleagues and community members relating to the field of criminal defense, as well.  She has been invited to speak to the Women Law Student Association on an annual basis at the University of Wisconsin - Madison Law School since 2011, and has taught seminars on trial skills and the use of psychological and organic brain damage as mitigating factors at sentencing for the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The latter seminar focused on her extensive experience dealing with mental health and organic brain injuries in the context of criminal defense, having been the second attorney in the state to pursue a Not Guilty By Insanity defense using Axis III diagnoses as a basis.  In 2015, Attorney Nicholson, along with Attorney Gansner, received a Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity verdict in a double homicide in Dane County, using a defense rooted in brain damage associated with ALS.  This verdict was the first of its kind nationally, and received national media attention, including a write up in the New York Times. Nicholson has been the coordinator for the Dane County Criminal Defense Project since 2009, and has been asked by members of the Dane County Judicial to serve on a committee to advise on potential reformation of the Dane County Drug Court Program.

Family Court Practice

In addition to her criminal law history, Nicholson has over a decade of experience working with families in crisis, beginning with her social work at the Domestic Violence Project/SAFE House in Washtenaw County, Michigan, from 2000-2003.  Nicholson has handled over one hundred divorce, paternity, and child support actions in counties all over the state of Wisconsin.  

Nicholson believes in child-based advocacy for family court clients, and strives to protect the interests of the minor children in the family court process. To that end, Nicholson has acted as Guardian ad Litem in family court cases in Dane County at the request of several members of the Dane County Judiciary. 

Nicholson's background in economics provides for a straightforward, accessible approach to property division and financial settlements.  Family court clients find her available to listen not just to the legalistic aspects of the case, but also to act as a source of strength and protection during a difficult time.  While Nicholson strives to resolve family court actions short of contested hearing to minimize the stress and anxiety sustained to the family unit, Nicholson's litigation background shines through when matters require trials, and she has successfully secured both the payment and termination of maintenance payments in a contested trial setting, voided the terms of unfair prenuptial agreements, and protected the rights of custodial parents against challenges to take away placement time and decision-making authority over the minor children involved in the family court actions.


Areas of Practice

  • Criminal Defense
  • Family Law

Bar Admissions

  • Wisconsin, 2006


  • University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison, Wisconsin
    • J.D. cum laude - 2006
    • Honors: Dean's List, 2003
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
    • B.A. magna cum laude - 2003
    • Major: Economics
    • Major: History of Art


  • WACDL’s Trial College, Faculty

Honors and Awards

  • Super Lawyers
  • Warrior Award (Outstanding Work in Criminal Defense), 2010 & 2015
  • Top 40 Under 40, The National Trial Lawyers, 2014
  • Named One of Wisconsin's Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association, 2014
  • Martin Hanson Award
  • The Advocate’s Prize/Hanson Memorial Award from WACDL in 2013

Professional Associations and Memberships

  • Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Member, 2006 - Present
  • Dane County Bar Association, Member, 2006 - Present
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers , Member


  • English