When Andrea Nodolf became Dunn County district attorney in 2014, she was admittedly surprised at the difficulties facing the office. Along with Nodolf, she had just two assistant district attorneys. The office actually lost a position during a budget cut in 2004.
“It was a shock, coming (from Rusk County) to a bigger county,” Nodolf said. “I wasn’t prepared for the caseload, and couldn’t prosecute cases the way they should be done.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers announced the addition of 64.95 new assistant district attorney positions, spread out over 56 counties.
Dunn and Eau Claire counties will each receive two new ADAs. Chippewa, Barron, Jackson and St. Croix counties will each receive one. Pierce County will receive an additional 0.5 position, and Buffalo County will get a 0.2 position.
“This is an absolute game-changer for our office,” Nodolf said. “Like most counties in western Wisconsin, we’ve been crushed by the methamphetamine epidemic.”
Nodolf added that her office has implemented a diversion program, and also got a grant in August to begin a family treatment court, which helps keep many cases from clogging the court docket.
In a press release, Evers said it is the first expansion of full-time assistant district attorney positions in the state in more than 10 years.
“For far too long, our county district attorney offices have been doing more with less,” Evers said in the press release. “This historic investment will enable our county officials to improve victims’ services, enhance diversion and treatment options for those struggling with substance use disorder, and address backlogs that are standing in the way of justice.”
Evers’ office estimates the cost of the new positions will be $7.8 million over the biennium.
Eau Claire County currently has nine district attorney positions, including DA Gary King. The new funding means the county will now have 11.
“It’s certainly welcome news; there’s no question about that,” King said.
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A recent study indicated that Eau Claire County is actually 7.1 positions short of what the state would consider fully staffed, King added.
“Every time I’ve submitted my request since becoming DA, I’ve only asked for two spots,” he said. “They did a nice job of spreading this out over the course of the state.”
King said the positions are definitely needed to keep up with the workload.
“We were up almost 500 (felony and misdemeanor) cases last year, and we’re on pace for that again,” King said. “Our people were pushing 500 open cases each. Getting these positions will put our office into the standards we want to meet.”
Barron County district attorney Brian Wright was sworn in to office in July 2018; he also previously had served as DA in Eau Claire County.
“Here in Barron County, there is an extreme need for an additional prosecutor,” Wright said. “I couldn’t be happier, not just for this office, but also for the citizens of Barron County. It will allow for better response for victims.”
Since Wright became district attorney, his office handled the prosecution of Jake Patterson, who kidnapped 13-year-old Jayme Closs and shot and killed her parents, James and Denise. While the Department of Justice provided assistance on the case, Wright said the focus on the major case meant other matters in his office didn’t get all the attention they deserved.
“It unquestionably affected our ability to manage some of our other cases,” Wright said, adding that it took a couple months to get back up to speed after the Patterson case was resolved. “It definitely had an impact.”
While the Patterson case is resolved, Wright pointed out his office is handling a stabbing homicide case that occurred in Almena and a baby death homicide case in Haugen.
“(This help) couldn’t come at a better time for this office,” Wright said. “We’ll start the (hiring) process immediately.”
Chippewa County district attorney Wade Newell has four assistant DA’s, plus himself, and he’s pleased to be able to add more help. Newell thanked the governor’s office and the Legislature for allocating the dollars. Like Nodolf, Newell pointed out the effect the meth epidemic has had on the caseload in his office.
“This new assistant district attorney position will allow Chippewa County to continue with its innovative evidence-based programs that will reduce recidivism, promote public safety, reduce jail and prison populations, reduce costs, and improve the welfare of all those involved in the criminal justice system,” Newell said.
The state’s Department of Administration compiled the list of recommended new positions, which was then approved by the governor’s office.