Sometimes, Michelle Ackerman Havas marvels at the time that has passed since she joined the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office in 2002.
Other times, she’s amazed she got there at all.
“School was never really my thing,” Havas explained.
This is why, after dreaming of a law degree, she enrolled in a technical school and contemplated life as a legal secretary. She got a job with the Milwaukee County DA’s domestic violence unit, but the work didn’t hold her attention.
“I really wasn’t interested in typing the letters,” she said. “I just wanted to read the files. …That was the beginning.”
Three years later, a probation liaison persuaded her to take a probation and parole agent exam. Weeks after that, she accepted a job with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Then, she started college, attending classes one night a week, earning her bachelor’s degree 10 years after she graduated high school.
For two and a half years during law school, she took a bus, and later a state commuter van, back and forth from Milwaukee to Madison, sleeping on the ride from State Fair Park, then walking a mile to campus.
After graduation, Havas spent three years at Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC, Milwaukee, before the allure of the DA’s office pulled her back.
“There’s an energy,” she said. “And you feel like you’re doing the right thing.”
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John DiMotto has seen Havas in court almost every day for the last four years, often mentoring opposing counsel.
“Her legal practice is not (based) on winning, but on bringing about a just result for parents and children alike,” he said.
That is what makes Havas a role model, although she still struggles to see it that way, especially when she’s stuck rationing pens or scrounging for paper clips, he said.
“You always look at, ‘If only I made more money, if only my office was a little cushier,’” Havas admitted. “But I had all that and realized it wasn’t what was important. I know what it was like to have the money, and I picked something else. I picked something that was good for me. I’ve made my decisions based on what is important to me.”
“I don’t know if that makes me a role model,” she added. “But if people look up to me, I hope they look up to what I did. Because people say, ‘Oh, you went to college. You went to law school.’ But there was a lot that happened in between.”