Jean La Tour fought her first legal battle when her brother began the fight for his life.
Eighteen months younger than her brother, Ted, La Tour graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1993, just before he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive type of brain tumor.
His treatments landed him in a nursing home where the family had disagreements with staff members over the use of dopey sedatives and pureed food. Those became La Tour’s first real-world legal actions. She challenged the nursing home on Ted’s behalf in a contentious situation where the home eventually relented.
The experience inspired her to, through her work, continue standing up for the vulnerable, including juveniles, the mentally disabled, people in need of guardianship and those dealing with drug addictions.
“If I go to a nursing home,” she said, “and I see a client who doesn’t want to continue in that nursing home under guardianship, I’ll go to court and do battle.”
La Tour spent the first six years of her career in the public defender’s office in Manitowoc. In 1999, she moved to the Waukesha County office, which was closer to her parents, who both succumbed to cancer months apart in 2008, as well as Ted, who died in August.
Through it all, her career has provided a satisfying advocacy position. Her national training on dealing with addicts led to an enduring staff role with the county’s drug and alcohol courts.
In all the cases she deals with, she said, she’s learned it helps to have a backbone of steel.
“I’ve got to be a strong advocate for this client in court,” La Tour said. “That’s what they need. They don’t need another friend to hold their hand.”
Samuel Benedict, regional attorney manager in the Waukesha state public defender’s office, called La Tour a “go-to” attorney for judges and peers alike when it comes to drug court regulations.
And no matter what courtroom La Tour is in, Benedict said, she’ll command the attention of those responsible. In one such instance in April, Benedict said, La Tour took charge during a juvenile in need of protection case where the parents were airing their pending divorce in front of the court during child welfare proceedings.
“She’s not afraid to stand up to the parents or … call them out in the hallway and tell them that this is a parent problem, not a kid problem,” he said. “That takes a lot of guts.”