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Oliveto stays on the defense in decades-long career

By: Justin Kern//June 21, 2012//

Oliveto stays on the defense in decades-long career

By: Justin Kern//June 21, 2012//

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Rose Oliveto, Wisconsin State Public Defenders Office 

Law degree received from: Thomas Cooley Law School, 1981

Staff photo by Kevin Harnack

Rose Oliveto requires no frills in working to improve the legal community and justice system. The organization she helps run, Southwestern Wisconsin Women Lawyers, is “not a group you’ll find in any book,” she said, but a basic networking and support group for female attorneys in a five-county area. They eschew splashy galas in favor of person-to-person connections.

She also takes a straightforward approach to her legal career, the past 26 years of which have been spent at the Wisconsin State Public Defenders Office. Oliveto maintains her dedication is fueled simply by a desire to “do a good job.”

As one of two defense attorneys in southwestern Wisconsin in the mid-1980s — at a time when many public defenders offices were just getting started nationwide — Oliveto butted heads with stubborn county jail officers to vocalize her clients’ rights.

“Oh, there were many of trials that I handled — in the beginning especially — with serious contention,” she said, “[over whether my client] should be in the jail or how our clients were being treated.”

But she never stopped “fighting the fight,” she said.

Oliveto started her career at her father’s real estate and probate practice in Michigan before taking on a job as assistant prosecuting attorney in Macomb County, Mich.

Eager to be near her husband, John McNamara, who was in Wisconsin for the start of his legal career, she jumped at the chance to take over a new state public defender role handling Grant, Crawford, Iowa and Richmond counties. She relished the position, she said, because of the variety of personal contact with clients rather than working through a set of police officers, judges and other attorneys.

“To me it was a lot more challenging than prosecuting,” Oliveto said.

A fellow attorney in the Lancaster public defender’s office, Amanda Tisdale, said Oliveto has been “a huge influence.” Tisdale was an intern in the office during her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Tisdale said the chance to work with Oliveto, her mentor and a “fantastic” representative of the accused, was one of the prime reasons she boomeranged back to the office after earning her juris doctor.


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