In the juvenile division at the Dane County District Attorney’s office, assistant DA Miriam J. Rohrer prosecutes homicide, sex crimes and assault cases that she said take her to “the darkest parts of human behavior.”
But those experiences also have taken her to programs that help teens and children battle their demons. She also has taken on outreach roles for lawyers facing tough cases and compassion fatigue.
At events and one-on-one meetings, Rohrer has stressed the importance of attorneys finding the right ways to deal with the emotional fallout from troubling cases. She deals with it by gardening and spending time with her husband, her three grown sons and her three dogs.
“It’s important to develop those outside interests,” Rohrer said, “so that you have a counterbalance to the darkness of criminal practice.”
Her work on criminal cases can involve trying to find ways to go deeper into that darkness. She said she remembers a case she successfully argued up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court involving a teenager who directed threats toward his school in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.
Rohrer argued the teen’s personal problems could lead to public concerns that, in turn, could trump a straightforward dismissal on free speech grounds.
“We wanted the community to be safe,” she said, “and to understand what was going on in his mind.”
Michael Walsh, deputy district attorney in Dane County, has worked with Rohrer for nearly three decades and called her an asset to the office.
“She takes it upon herself, the obligation to research things in depth, topics that are impacting how we practice and the effects they have on the population,” Walsh said. “She becomes an expert on her own initiative.”
Rohrer, a Decatur, Ill., native, said she revered her father’s “honest, admirable” legal work in integrating public schools in her town in the late 1960s. She followed her father into the law and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1977.
Not long after, she became the first female district attorney in Portage County. Her DA colleagues quickly discovered her ability to lead in the sometimes-rural areas outside Stevens Point.
“When I had my interview to become an assistant DA, they asked, ‘Well, how will it be if you have to talk to farmers?’” Rohrer said. “I said, ‘My grandfather and grandmother are farmers in Illinois, so I’ll do just fine.’”