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Dennis P. Coffey

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//March 8, 2010//

Dennis P. Coffey

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//March 8, 2010//

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The term, “veteran criminal defense attorney” applies to no one in Wisconsin, if not Mawicke & Goisman attorney Dennis P. Coffey.

Coffey has tried over 400 criminal jury trials in his nearly 40 year career, plus two civil trials. He estimates that, at one point in the late 1970s, he and his colleagues in a five-member firm were trying nearly half of all criminal jury trials in Milwaukee County.

Much has changed since that time. With the federalization of street crimes, roughly 70 percent of his cases are now in federal court, compared to only about 15 percent in the 1970s. Indictments involving dozens of defendants were also unheard of when he began practicing law.

Federal criminalization of business practices has also affected not just the practice of law in the courts, but also how Coffey operates his practice.

After years of practicing in small firms that did just criminal law, Coffey tired of the business of running a firm, and joined a firm known for its representation of business entities. It relieved him of firm management responsibilities, and he brought his expertise to a new type of client.

“I found a unique niche that allowed me to do what I want to do, and help business clients deal with the expansion of criminal law. Fifteen years ago, businesses really didn’t require a lawyer versed in criminal law.” At the same time, Coffey still has the opportunity to take appointments from federal courts.

Over the years, Coffey has handled many high-profile cases in Wisconsin courts, including the successful representation of a former Playboy model. She was charged with failing to pay taxes on gifts from a wealthy older man. Coffey successfully defended some of the charges at trial, and the rest were reversed on appeal to the Seventh Circuit.

But Coffey says that the biggest and best victories are the cases nobody knows about, because they were resolved without any publicity.

Coffey is also a staunch critic of harsh penalties for controlled substances offenses, a very different atmosphere from when he began practicing.

Despite the government spending billions on drug prosecutions, Coffey notes that what would qualify as the biggest drug bust ever in the 1980s would be only a midlevel prosecution now.

“Despite the amount of effort, money, and time put into drug cases, and that prosecutors are generally successful, it hasn’t had an impact. Everything seems more readily available now.”

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