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Michael Tobin


Michael Tobin


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After graduating law school in 1977, attorney Michael Tobin started his legal career in the Texas prison system working with defendants, many of whom were facing the death penalty.

As the current Trial Division Director for the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, Tobin sometimes reflects on his humble beginning when the going gets tough.

“I really try and not dwell on the negative aspects of the job and in retrospect, I really have an appreciation for the high-quality service our clients get here,” he said.

Tobin joined the SPD in 1979 years ago as a staff attorney and 13 years ago took over as head of the Trial Division.

He supervises the 12 regional SPD offices in Wisconsin and a staff of 400 which handle 140,000 cases annually.

Under Tobin’s tutelage, the largest division of the SPD has provided representation in more than 2,000,000 cases.

During the last several years, he along with other SPD leaders have sought changes in both the reimbursement rate for private bar attorneys who take case assignments, and updated eligibility standards for people to qualify for representation.

In his role as an administrator, Tobin often represents the SPD locally and nationally to champion for better resources.

“I’m trying to give a voice to our clients who by definition are poor and the fact that they’ve gotten into trouble with the law, never makes them the most popular politically,” he said.

But recently the SPD received some encouraging news as the State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee advanced a proposal to lower indigency standards to the Senate and Assembly.

Beyond his work with the SPD, Tobin has also co-authored the State Bar of Wisconsin’s criminal defense manual and teaches at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

He also helps facilitate the state bar’s mock trial program as vice-chair of the Public Education Committee.


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