Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 20, 2023
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Liberal state Supreme Court justice candidate Janet Protasiewicz says she’s not hiding from the “progressive label.”
The Milwaukee County judge has definitely surrounded herself with liberal legal activists, perhaps none more controversial than her old boss, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.
In 2013, the progressive justice prosecutor endorsed Protasiewicz in her unsuccessful run for Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge. Protasiewicz went on to lose to Rebecca G. Bradley, now one of four conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The upcoming election will determine whether conservatives or liberals control the court.
It should be noted that Chisholm initially endorsed another liberal candidate for the 2013 Milwaukee County Court race, switching his support only after Protasiewicz won the primary.
Chisholm, whose office has been widely criticized for its lenient plea deals and low bail recommendations that have set killers free, starred in a campaign ad at the time touting Protasiewicz as tough on crime. Protasiewicz served as an assistant DA under Chisholm for several years.
“Janet’s tough,” Chisholm asserts in the commercial. “She’s prosecuted some of the most dangerous criminals in Milwaukee County.”
Protasiewicz’s time on the bench tells a different story. She gave no prison time to a mother who starved her son to death, according to a report from Wisconsin Right Now. The 16-year-old boy weighed just 42 pounds when he died, and his “bones were visible underneath his skin because he did not have muscle.”
Wisconsin Right Now also reported on Protasiewicz’s decision to give no prison time to a felon who raped and abducted a teenage girl.
Chisholm, too, has helped set killers free. In fact, he even predicted he would in his first years in office.
“Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into [a] treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”
Perhaps the most heartbreaking example of Chisholm’s prediction come true was the Waukesha Christmas Parade Massacre. The prosecutor acknowledged that his office’s bail recommendation for Darrell Brooks Jr. was “inappropriately low.” Brooks, a career violent criminal, was set free on $1,000 bail just days before he plowed his red SUV into the November 2021 Christmas parade, killing six people (including an 8-year-old boy), and injuring scores more. He had been in jail accused of running over the mother of his child with the same vehicle a few weeks before the deadly incident in Waukesha.
Critics said the low bail wasn’t a simple mistake on the part of a district attorney’s office seen as a key player in Milwaukee County’s revolving door criminal justice system.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, Chisholm has long been a leading figure among “progressive prosecutors,” leftwing lawmen who favor diversionary programs to locking up criminal defendants. He’s taken credit for inspiring a new wave of prosecutors in cities like San Francisco, St. Louis, and Philadelphia who have enacted similar reforms. Chisholm congratulated San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin following his election in 2019, and the pair spoke at a forum in 2021 on the status of the progressive prosecutor movement. Boudin, by the way, lost a recall election last year in what Politico described as a “blow to a national movement toward more lenient prosecution.”
Protasiewicz has already signaled where she would stand on abortion, legislative maps and cultural issues, telling WKOW’s Capital City Sunday that she embraces the “progressive label.” Her tutelage under Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm and her record on the circuit court offer a window into how the Supreme Court candidate approaches the law when it comes to crime and punishmen