Schimel Heads to Madison as Wisconsin’s Top Cop
brad-schimelCourtesy of Waukesha Freeman 01/03/2015 ed

WAUKESHA — Brad Schimel noted there was only one real constant throughout his 25 years in the Waukesha County District Attorney’s office: change.

Schimel, who began as an intern in 1989 before becoming an assistant district attorney and, in 2006, the county’s district attorney, had his last day in office Friday before climbing the next wrung of the ladder on Monday, when he is sworn in as Wisconsin’s 44th attorney general.

“When I started here, there was no Internet,” he said, reflecting on his two-and-a-half decades inside the Waukesha County Courthouse. “No one in law enforcement ever confiscated child pornography. The Internet has just really turned everything.

“We didn’t have a crime called identity theft. If you stole something, you picked up something and walked off with it. Everything changed with that.”

He has also seen crimes against children evolve through online relationships, evidence collection procedures transform homicide investigations and DNA grow from a science lesson into a tool used to help put criminals behind bars.

When asked if any of the hundreds of cases he was involved in stood out for him, Schimel was quick to note the 2009 murder-for-hire case in Oconomowoc orchestrated by Darren Wold.

“That was the toughest case to take to trial and win,” he said.

Wold, along with a friend, hired an ex-con to murder Kim Smith, the mother of his child, in 2009 following a bitter custody dispute. All three men were subsequently found guilty following a trial and appeal process which lasted years.

Schimel, a Town of Genesee resident, also noted the number of sexual assault cases involving children he has had to prosecute, but observed that number has declined since the Child Advocacy Resources and Empowerment Center, which he helped create, opened in 2006.

“We are doing much better investigations because of that,” he said. “(Prosecutor) Deb Blasius and I were in the sensitive crime unit as assistant DAs and each of us would try 10 big child sexual assault jury trials each year. Now, total in the unit, they try a couple because the cases are just better. There is less room for uncertainty.”

Fighting opioid abuse

Schimel also served on the Waukesha County Criminal Justice Collaborating Council’s Executive Committee, and was chair of the Drug Abuse Trends Committee which prompted the creation of the county’s Drug Treatment Court. That court — founded in 2012 as a post-plea program which offers participants an opportunity to amend their pending criminal charges to a lesser charge — was one of the state’s first and is something Schimel would like to see expanded across Wisconsin during his tenure as attorney general.

“We have to make sure at the Department of Justice we have that available to every county in the state,” he said, “because they are all experiencing people addicted to these drugs.”

Schimel has made it clear that as attorney general, public enemy No. 1 is the heroin and opioid crisis gripping the state. He said he plans to continue some of the policies he began locally when in Madison and wants to make more resources available to law enforcement and prosecutors, but stressed that prevention and community awareness are the biggest tools in the fight against drugs.

As attorney general, he wants to make an awareness programs available to schools across Wisconsin and wants people to understand it is more than just heroin, but also prescription medications, spawning the state’s addiction problems.

“I don’t think there is anybody positioned as well as the attorney general to meet with the medical society, the hospital association, the dental association to talk about making sure the medical providers understand the nature of what they are prescribing and that we start changing the conversation between doctor and patient,” he said.

“The same way you would think about locking up a loaded handgun in your house, you should think about locking up these drugs because frankly, they are killing more people than guns — a lot more.”

Outside of that, Schimel pointed to online crimes against children and protecting state laws as his other biggest priorities as AG.

Keeping close to home

Schimel once asked a former county clerk for a list of all the previous district attorneys in Waukesha’s history. While they all accomplished great things, he said, they have all largely been forgotten.

He expects the same will likely happen to him, but hopes the people he has hired, the institutions he had a hand in creating and the work he has done will comprise his lasting legacy.

There have been some second- guesses and some sorrys Schimel has had to say as DA, but he doesn’t hold on to any regrets from his tenure.

While his new job will take him a little further from home — it will be about an 120-mile commute round-trip — Schimel said he has no intention of leaving Waukesha County.

“My wife and I grew up here,” he said. “I can’t think of a better place to raise your kids. I love the organizations here. What has impressed me most as DA and as an assistant DA was the way people work together. I love the resolve of Waukesha County.”

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