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Masnica fights for rights

By: Jane Pribek//September 26, 2013//

Masnica fights for rights

By: Jane Pribek//September 26, 2013//

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Nicole   Masnica - Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office, Trial Division  (WLJ Photo by Kevin Harnack)
Nicole   Masnica – Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, Trial Division (WLJ Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Public defender Nicole Masnica proved her worth just two months after starting her legal career.

In State v. Wirth, she and attorney Sam Benedict represented a man facing double counts of homicide, among other charges. Masnica successfully argued the thorny pretrial evidence issues of character evidence, including prior acts of the victims, who were both deceased, to bolster their client’s self-defense claims.

At the high-profile, six-day trial in October 2010, Wirth was ultimately acquitted on the homicide charges, but found guilty on two counts of homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon — a much better outcome for her client, comparing the potential penalties.

Even as a law student, Masnica stood out from her peers. She wrote a brief as a 2L intern for her current office on a sexual assault case that led to the suppression of the defendant’s confession in State v. Stevens. Ultimately the issue went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“Our job [as public defenders] is very difficult,” she said, “but also very rewarding – to be on the side that many people think is the wrong side.

“But I think it helps all of us. Civil rights and constitutional rights don’t just affect our clients; they affect all of us.”

What is the best part of your job?

Working with people. We really dip into a lot of people’s personal business, and we try to help them. It’s an emotional process. With a lot of other types of law, you don’t necessarily form the relationships that we do with our clients.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Working with people. As a criminal defense attorney, oftentimes we’re on the losing side. And explaining that their case might not work out can be difficult. They can go to jail, or lose their jobs or their families, so it’s emotionally draining.

If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you have done?

If you ask my husband, he’d agree I’m sort of a dreamer. There are about a million careers I’d like to do. Maybe a writer or in business – something with a little less structure and a little more freedom.

Which living person do you most admire?

My mom. She has cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, that’s in remission right now. She had a bone marrow transplant in March. She’s doing great now. She’s been my best friend for years.

What song is on heavy rotation on your iPod?

It’s not a song but a whole album. I just saw The Wild Feathers – it’s a band out of Nashville – at Summerfest. I’m obsessed with them. It’s a bluegrass/rock band.


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