Dana Smetana has built a reputation as an assistant public defender who does not just see opportunities to improve the criminal justice system.
She acts on them.
“She was in on the ground floor for all of our treatment courts,” said Michael Schumacher, a judge in Eau Claire County. “She’s great at working collaboratively, and she’s tireless. And she runs a staff where the lawyers stick around in spite of the fact that it’s hard work and low pay.”
Smetana’s influence extends beyond her office in Eau Claire County. She has earned a reputation nationally for expertise in evidence-based decision-making and is often tapped to lecture on the topic.
Smetana was instrumental in Eau Claire County being selected as one of just three venues nationally to earn an EBDM grant from the National Institute of Corrections.
Smetana has worked in Eau Claire County for the State Public Defender’s Office since 1984, which is when she graduated from law school. She learned the job quickly, becoming the office’s attorney manager in 1989. Then, in 1994, she became the regional attorney manager, overseeing 10 staff members in northwestern Wisconsin counties.
“It wasn’t easy being a female lawyer when we started out,” Smetana said. “There were still a lot of people who weren’t thrilled about having female lawyers. I can remember maybe a handful of women attorneys in Eau Claire at the time.”
Smetana said she is just one example of the public defender’s outstanding record for letting women lead. Still, she said, there is room for improvement in the larger system.
“But I see women still having a tough time getting promoted in the private sector with partnerships,” Smetana said.
She said there is a need for similar improvements on the bench.
“In the 10 counties within my region,” Smetana said, “we only have one woman judge. So we need more women judges in my area of the state.”
Her efforts to improve the criminal just system extend to involvement in such groups as the Eau Claire County Criminal Justice Collaborating Council, the Adult Treatment Court Collaborative, the Jail Programming Committee, the local Restorative Justice Board and the Community Transition Center Advisory Board.
And in the middle of all that work to improve the system, she continues to work within it.
“I don’t know that I’d do defense work if it weren’t indigent defense,” she said. “I just feel so strongly that what we do goes right to the heart of what the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is all about.”