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Blackwood still going strong after switch from state to federal court

By: David Ziemer, [email protected]//June 23, 2011//

Blackwood still going strong after switch from state to federal court

By: David Ziemer, [email protected]//June 23, 2011//

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(Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)
(Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Blackwood was still a child when she observed the Milwaukee County Circuit Court system in action during a high school field trip, but from that moment forward, she knew what she wanted to do.

“That was my inspiration to become a prosecutor,” Blackwood said.

Blackwood began her career at the Racine County District Attorney’s office, handling a general felony caseload, but focusing on sexual assault cases.

After 19 years in the office, she decided to move to federal court in 1998, joining the U.S. Attorney’s office in Milwaukee.

It was a leap of faith inspired, in part, by her children, she said.

“I was content in Racine; I knew all the judges there, and I knew no one in federal court,” she said. “But my kids said, ‘You’ve had one job for 19 years; try at least two.’”

It was a big switch to an alien world, as anyone who has handled sentencing hearings in both state and federal court during the days of mandatory sentencing guidelines can attest.

Now, Blackwood said, she’s glad the federal courts have gone to advisory guidelines only.

“You can tailor the sentence to a particular defendant better,” she said. “Occasionally sentences are longer as a result, but more often, they are lower. But you can’t complain about a system that allows personal characteristics to be considered.”

Much of Blackwood’s work in federal court involves prosecuting bank robberies; a crime, she said, that is drawing younger and more violent offenders.

“We haven’t had a teller shot in recent history,” she said. “But younger kids and loaded guns are a recipe for disaster.”

Blackwood estimates she has tried more than 250 cases, most in state court. The trials are fewer in federal court she says, but they are longer and more complicated.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle said he is proud to count Blackwood among his colleagues.

“Throughout her career in service to the people of our community, Beth has wedded her intelligence, her work ethic, and her commitment to public safety to equal doses of compassion, fairness and commitment to doing what is right,” he said.

“All of us have benefited and continue to benefit greatly from her singular focus on balanced justice in law enforcement.”

Juggling motherhood with a busy career, Blackwood has helped raised the next generation of women in the law. She and her husband, Bill, have two daughters: one is also a prosecutor and the other is in law school.


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