“When I work with other lawyers, that collaboration, that’s what I like to do,” said Benedict, first assistant for a four-county region with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office. “I was just on a call brainstorming with another lawyer on how to take on an upcoming motion hearing.
“It’s certainly a benefit of experience, but it’s also something that I enjoy. And I hope younger lawyers, when they see me getting excited, it makes them excited as well.”
Since joining the State Public Defender’s Office as a courtroom public defender in 1979, Benedict, 57, has represented the accused in criminal trials. In recent years, that role has transformed to a department management and guidance position for the more than 8,000 cases taken on each year by public defenders in suburban Milwaukee.
Sharing with peers is, in its own way, an expression of experience. Along with his oversight of offices in Waukesha, Jefferson, Ozaukee and Washington counties, a regular week might find Benedict mentoring a new attorney on his or her first homicide case and passing advice to Lincoln County state defenders trying their own unique criminal case.
That’s on top of the “difficult” cases he guides his own lawyers through, including a recent acquittal in a Waukesha shaken baby trial and a reduced verdict for a client facing life in prison from charges related to the well-publicized shooting of an off-duty police officer outside a bar.
The years of experience haven’t stifled his interest in learning more, however. Although he’s a regular lecturer at the annual state public defender’s conference, it’s the event’s group discussions and educational opportunities he anticipates most, he said.
Benedict turns to younger lawyers to stay abreast of the many technological leaps that have transformed the legal community in recent decades, he said, as they “know a lot more about that than I do.”
That connection to younger generations extends beyond his legal career to Wauwatosa, the community where Benedict and his wife, Pamela, live and raised their three sons. Benedict has been a trustee at his local parish and engaged with civic leaders on issues facing children — and how to help — through the Wauwatosa Youth Commission.
“I’ve always been interested in staying in touch with what young people are doing and what young people are thinking,” he said. “I think that keeps me young.”