Walworth County D.A. Wiedenfeld’s Charging Push

There’s a story from the Janesville Gazette about how Walworth County’s district attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld is charging more frequently even as arrests in Walworth County are down significantly. See Walworth County DA charging more cases even though arrests are down. (For a post about Wiedenfeld’s insistence that he have a veto over judicial placements into drug treatment programs, see Scenes from the Alabama Walworth County Legal System.)

A few remarks:

The Easy Way? Wiedenfeld is quoted declaring that “I think the easiest thing for any prosecutor to do is to find a reason not to charge something.” One can assume Wiedenfeld is serious, but there’s no reason to take his claim seriously. Walworth County is a conservative – indeed sometimes ultra-conservative – place, and reluctance to charge is hardly the county’s biggest legal challenge.

Soft Until He Came Along? Implicitly, Wiedenfeld argues that those before him – and around him now – have been soft. Indeed, he contends that “he has encouraged his assistant DAs to work more closely with police to avoid any quick decisions to decline cases.” Too funny: the clear implication is that without Wiedenfeld’s help, police officers have exercised poor judgment. How many does he think would have acted deficiently without him?

Lazy Until He Came Along? Wiedenfeld also offers that his higher charging numbers are in part because “he encourages his prosecutors to fight for a ‘just result’ in each case and to track down all possible witnesses or documents to prove a case.”

Were prosecutors not doing this before Wiedenfeld came along?  Former district attorney Phil Koss is now Judge Koss – does Wiedenfeld doubt that former D.A. Koss, or the assistant district attorneys who preceded Wiedenfeld’s time as district attorney, were too lazy or too lenient to fight for a just result?

(Judge Koss reportedly said that he would not support the county’s diversionary program if Wiedenfeld didn’t support it.  The current district attorney returns the favor by implying his predecessors – of which Koss is one – have been shirkers.)

The Context. Walworth County, like many rural places, is struggling economically and in matters of public health like substance abuse.  Into this environment comes a solution that demands more charges, more proceedings, and the risk of more confinement for more addicts.

If confinement could solve these problems of rural America, does Walworth County’s district attorney not think that someone else across this vast continent would conclusively have proved as much?  We are, after all, a country of three hundred twenty-eight million.

More – of the kind that Walworth County’s district attorney is pushing – will prove less.

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