Deja Vishny, Wisconsin State Public Defenders Office
Law degree received from: University of Wisconsin Law School, 1980
Deja Vishny does not shy away from hard work.
In her first year as a Racine public defender in 1980, Vishny tried about a dozen cases.
“It was a small office, only seven attorneys,” she said. “But it was a real go-getter office, where people were constantly at trial. I worked really hard those first years to learn my job.”
That work ethic continues today, said Wisconsin State Public Defender Kelli Thompson.
“Deja is an extremely skilled attorney who willingly takes on the tough and the unpopular cases,” Thompson said. “She represents clients facing the most serious charges, sometimes in cases that grab headlines because of their tragic nature.”
As part of the office’s Milwaukee Trial Division, Vishny leads the Homicide Unit, often trying the most challenging cases.
The pace can be grueling.
In 2004 and 2005, she tried two first-degree intentional homicides back-to-back, where both clients were acquitted. One of them involved a self-defense claim, which can be very challenging to prove, Vishny noted, while in the other, she successfully countered the testimony of multiple witnesses who identified her client as the shooter.
Challenging as the work may be, it’s the reason Vishny applied to law school in the first place, she said.
“I was interested in justice issues, and making sure that citizens have a fair shake inside the criminal justice system,” she said.
Adding to her workload, Vishny is a teacher and lecturer. She started a training program in the Milwaukee office in 1990, upon her return from a visit to the National Criminal Defense College in Macon, Ga. Though she initially volunteered her time, on top of a full caseload, the agency realized the value of her efforts and made it into a formal position.
Vishny has taught at Marquette University Law School since the early 1990s and in 1998 she joined the faculty of the National Criminal Defense College. She lectures nationwide, with a specialty in defending confession cases. This year, she taught in India for the International Bridges to Justice Program.
She’s also writing a book for defense attorneys about suppressing evidence, which is due to hit shelves next year.