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Editorial: Protect the protectors

Do a quick Google search of “Karie Cattanach,” and it is all there.

The Wisconsin assistant attorney general and former Dane County assistant district attorney’s life is an open book broken down into pages of a search. Where she works. Professional organizations she belongs to. When she was born. Cases she has worked on. Her phone number, email address and, dig a little deeper, where she lives.

What you won’t find in a search is how prosecutors in Wisconsin are protected by some of the laws they enforce.

On a national level, the U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for the safety of more than 2,200 judges and about 10,000 other court officials at more than 400 court buildings. In 2012, 1,370 threats or inappropriate communications against federal judges and prosecutors were investigated, according to the USMS.

In Wisconsin, threats of violence against prosecutors are nothing new. In 2000, gang members followed through on a threat and firebombed the house of Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank two days before the murder trial of a gang leader.

In early April, the friend of a defendant on trial for murdering his three daughters was arrested in St. Croix County after threatening to attack prosecutors. Police found two knives on the man.

He was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. He wasn’t charged with a felony, and the reason why is prosecutors in the state aren’t in a protected class, a status extended to judges, social workers, probation officers and law enforcement officers.

There are no Wisconsin state statues that demand a level of punishment for making threats to prosecutors.

Efforts have been made to increase penalties for threatening prosecutors, but all have failed to pass in the Legislature.

It’s time Wisconsin starts protecting the men and women who protect society. It’s time for the laws to catch up to the seriousness of the crimes.

Cattanach agrees.

In 2010, when she was an assistant district attorney for Dane County, Cattanach prosecuted Lynn Moller on child abuse charges. Moller was convicted of three counts and sentenced to six months in jail.

It was a case like many others for Cattanach; and then it wasn’t.

Shortly after sentencing, Moller’s husband began stalking Cattanach, the details of which are in this month’s Law Journal cover story. Michel Moller pleaded not guilty to stalking Aug. 16, 2011. On April 11, 2012, Moller was found guilty in a jury trial. His sentence? A restraining order, minimal jail time and three years of probation.

As an assistant DA, Cattanach prosecuted some of society’s worst of the worst, and she did it under long hours and relatively low pay, just not under the cover of anonymity.

“Until then, I never had feared for my safety to such a degree that I believed myself in danger and feared for my safety and my children’s safety,” Cattanach said.

Threats from criminals are part of the job, Cattanach said.

Being able to hand out stiff penalties should be, too.


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