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La Crosse County to add two new prosecutors
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La Crosse County to add two new prosecutors

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La Crosse County will get two more prosecutors later this year, according to a Tuesday announcement from Gov. Tony Evers.

The addition of two more assistant district attorneys will allow the La Crosse County District Attorney’s Office to give more time and attention to residents seeking justice, said Department of Administration Secretary designee Joel Brennan, who was in La Crosse Tuesday to share the news.

“The people who really benefit from that are the people here in La Crosse County who want to feel safer and the people here in La Crosse County and across the state who want creative solutions, innovative solutions,” Brennan said. “Only by making sure that the district attorney’s office here has that kind of time, has those kind of resources will we at the state and residents of the state find and benefit from those kind of creative and innovative solutions.”

Monroe, Chippewa and Jackson counties also will be able to hire one more ADA each. The 64.95 positions will be spread across 56 counties.

Tim Gruenke

Gruenke

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said the two new positions — bringing the total number of prosecutors including himself to 10 — will be a welcome relief for his staff.

“We’ve been asking for more positions for a very long time. I think it’s been since 2002 or 2003 since we had another position added. Since then all the studies that have been done show that we are understaffed and we should have as many as five more than we have now,” Gruenke said.

Assisting district attorneys in his office handle between 300 and 400 open cases at any one time, he said.

“Not every case gets the attention that it needs, and we have to cut corners just to make the ends meet,” Gruenke said.

“Hopefully with the two additional prosecutors, we’ll be able to dedicate more time to those services (OWI and treatment court), and also spread out the cases more evenly so people will have more time to dedicate to each case, and the public will feel like we’re paying attention to them like we should be while still expanding our role in diversion programs, pre-trial programs and bond monitoring programs,” he added.

Gruenke said he was already putting out feelers for new additions and expected to have the attorneys hired in a couple months.

The move is a step to deliver on Evers’ promise to begin corrections reform in Wisconsin, Brennan said.

“You can’t have those kind of creative solutions that are happening here in La Crosse County, that are happening across the state, if you have overworked partners on the local level doing this work,” Brennan said.

After the 2019-20 biennial budget added just under 65 full-time positions across the state for the first time in more than 10 years, Brennan’s department was tasked with reviewing the needs of individual offices.

“We used several criteria as we were evaluating these, things that La Crosse County certainly scores highly in,” Brennan said.

La Crosse has been a leader in creating and expanding alternatives to incarceration, including treatment and diversion programs, as well as meeting with victims prior to charging, he said.

Jennifer Shilling

Shilling

Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, praised the partnership between local and state leaders that lead to the change.

“La Crosse County has championed treatment alternatives and diversion programs to address the backlogs and reduce recidivism for nonviolent offenders. We’ve seen a lot of local success, but a lack of state funding in the past has prevented a lot of progress that we would like to see,” Shilling said.

The new administration has changed that, she said.

“We now have a statewide approach that will help ease caseloads for district attorneys and ensure that justice for victims and survivors for our communities is served in a timely manner,” Shilling said.


Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

“We’ve been asking for more positions for a very long time. ... All the studies that have been done show that we are understaffed and we should have as many as five more than we have now.”

Tim Gruenke, La Crosse County district attorney

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“La Crosse County has championed treatment alternatives and diversion programs to address the backlogs and reduce recidivism for nonviolent offenders. We’ve seen a lot of local success, but a lack of state funding in the past has prevented a lot of progress that we would like to see.”

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering crime and courts for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218 or jvian@lacrossetribune.com.

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