The race for Wisconsin’s open attorney general’s seat has taken place in the shadow of a heated gubernatorial race.
Editor Tony Anderson recently caught up with Vincent R. Biskupic and Peggy A. Lautenschlager, the two candidates looking to succeed James Doyle as Wisconsin Attorney General. Biskupic, the Outagamie County District Attorney, and Lautenschlager, the former Western District of Wisconsin U.S. Attorney, shared some of their thoughts on how they would approach the office of the state attorney general.
Vincent R. Biskupic
|Vincent R. Biskupic|
Vincent R. Biskupic has been a prosecutor in the Fox Valley for 13 years. Biskupic views his experience as the district attorney of Outagamie County during the past eight years, along with his five years as a deputy district attorney and assistant district attorney in Winnebago County among his strongest qualifications for the role of state attorney general.
The Republican candidate indicates that he has successfully prosecuted more than 30 homicide or attempted homicide cases and that he has prosecuted more than 10,000 criminal and civil cases, including 2,000 felonies.
Among his most notable cases is the successful effort with officials from half a dozen other counties to prosecute serial killer David Spanbauer, who received three life sentences along with 403 years in prison.
From the beginning of his career, Biskupic has focused on that interest in law enforcement. He noted that law enforcement is entrusted with helping to maintain the quality of life in communities.
"I viewed my role as district attorney as trying to maintain the quality of life in the Fox Valley," Biskupic said.
Those same interests carry over to the role of attorney general, he said. Through that position, he would like to strengthen the state Department of Justices law enforcement efforts. He also would like to utilize that position to help shore up district attorneys offices around the state, which he observed are understaffed.
The past president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association noted that his colleagues are frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of focus on law enforcement by the DOJ. Biskupic also said that the current administration has pared down the number of assistant attorney generals serving as criminal litigators.
Referring to a state Department of Administration report indicating that approximately 75 percent of the district attorney offices across the state are understaffed, Biskupic said, he would like to utilize the DOJs resources to help those offices.
"I know that there is a great need at the district attorneys level to have more cooperative efforts with the A.G.s office, more sharing of resources," Biskupic said.
That help could come in the form of manpower through the allocation of more assistant attorney generals to field offices, providing support as criminal litigators and helping to train other law enforcement officials.
"When I started as a prosecutor in the 1980s, more assistant A.G.s were out in the field as criminal litigators, assisting moderate-sized D.A.s offices and smaller D.A.s offices that needed help on big white collar crime cases, unsolved homicides, multi-county sexual assault cases," Biskupic said.
Beyond the allocation of people, Biskupic noted that he has had great success in tracking down available federal grant money to fund new positions. In Outagamie County, he said, they have been able to fund five assistant district attorney positions through grants.
"We will have a very aggressive approach to targeting and receiving federal grant funds to assist with additional positions in the A.G.s office and also in D.A.s offices around the state," he said.
Biskupics strategy goes beyond a reliance on traditional law enforcement methods. While serving as district attorney, he has been involved with alternative, fast-track programs designed to relieve some of the pressure on the court system. He pointed to a first-time drug offense program designed to direct participants into treatment, as well as Outagamie Countys Domestic Abuse Program, as examples of successful alternative programs.
"I tend to take a strong stand on violent crime, white collar crime and sexual assaults, but I also know we need to be progressive with s
ome of these alternative programs to save tax dollars and to free up court time for more serious cases."
When asked about the differences between himself and his opponent Peggy A. Lautenschlager, Biskupic paints Lautenschlager as a career politician and himself as a career prosecutor.
"My career has been exclusively focused on prosecution and law enforcement," he said. "Hers has been a series of runs for different political offices."
Biskupic noted that his family has strong ties to community service and the law. His father has practiced law in Illinois for nearly 50 years and served as special assistant attorney general in Illinois. Biskupics brother, Stephen, serves as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Peggy A. Lautenschlager
|Peggy A. Lautenschlager|
Peggy A. Lautenschlager sees the role of state attorney general focusing on three main areas of public interest: community safety, civil enforcement and as an advocate for good government. Lautenschlager be-lieves that her diverse background has prepared her to address the variety of issues the office faces.
"I think the attorney generals office is a wonderful opportunity to both deal with criminal justice cases as well as policy issues and focus on keeping communities safe," Lautenschlager said. "It also provides an opportunity to work toward enforcing laws in the state that are designed to protect the states resources as well as its people."
The Democratic candidate indicated that her last post as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin helped prepare her for the role of attorney general. Serving as both as state and federal prosecutor provided her with experience in the courtroom, handling appeals and dealing with policy issues.
While serving as U.S. attorney, Lauten-schlager noted that she served on U.S. Attorney General Janet Renos advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, which dealt with federal Department of Justice policy issues ranging from health care fraud to terrorism and from controlled substance issues to civil enforcement of the law.
"Ive had those kinds of opportunities that I think are very relevant to the attorney generals office," Lautenschlager said.
Added to that, she said are the experiences she gained while serving on the state Assembly for four years. That experience provided her with a view of state operations and the budget process. All of which, she indicated, would help her in the position she is seeking.
Opponent Vincent R. Biskupic has pointed to her changing roles as an indication that she is a career politician. To that, she responds:
"The attorney generals office needs more than a professional prosecutor. Yes, you need someone who is familiar with prosecution, but you also need somebody who is familiar with the enforcement of our civil laws, somebody who understands the various issues that come up on appeal, somebody who understands the issues involving budget, the crime lab, and two law enforcement agencies."
Lautenschlager said it is not enough to simply view the attorney generals office as the role of a "super district attorney." The state Department of Justice also is involved in civil cases, as well as defending the state in tort actions, enforcing consumer protection.
Again, Lautenschlager pointed to her role as U.S. attorney providing her with experience handling civil cases. During a five-year period, she noted, her office collected $54 million in civil forfeitures.
"The attorney generals office should continue to play an aggressive role in those cases as it has in the past," Lautenschlager said.
The federal position also provided an opportunity to work with the state Department of Justice on a variety of projects including a variety of initiatives dealing with methamphetamines, health care fraud and nursing homes.
"I would like to continue and enhance some of those programs," she said.
When it comes to addressing community safety, Lautenschlager said she supports a multi-faceted approach that involves fighting crimes, prosecuting white-collar crime and encouraging communities to take proactive steps to prevent crime from occurring in the first place.
Lautenschlager also noted that the attorney general should be an advocate for
good government. To that end, she has suggested the creation of an office of public integrity that would deal with violations of public trust, particularly through the actions of public officials or public employees. She sees it as the potential merging of the Elections Board and the Ethics Board into a cohesive unit imbued with responsibility for violations of many kinds of public laws. Incidents from investigations into the state caucuses or the Milwaukee County pension scandal have indicated a need to pay closer attention to public officials and employees.
The attorney general, as the states top attorney and supervisor of nearly 100 other attorneys, needs to make conscientious decisions about how to pursue cases, particularly at the appellate level, Lautenschlager noted.
"Sometimes it seems as though the position of the state almost gets reversed from one case to another depending on responsiveness," she said. "I think establishing some sort of mechanism by which one can ensure consistency of position by the state makes sense."