Richard Nixon helped Bill Kohl find a career path.
It was the summer of ’74, Nixon had resigned and like many 20-somethings, Kohl marked that turning point in American history by spending the summer on a California beach.
“It was a great summer,” said the Waupan native. “But I was coming home broke and had to find a job.”
Through a friend, Kohl met a Milwaukee attorney who took him on as an office runner and process server. Not only did Kohl enjoy the work but eventually found his professional niche as a private investigator.
“It’s incredibly interesting work,” Kohl said. “It’s entertaining work, and sometimes it’s even fun. I am part of the system that helps protect people and makes sure they get a fair shake.”
It’s that commitment to fairness that drives Kohl. As a defense investigator, Kohl sees many of his clients as decent people who made mistakes. And there is still the passion of the 70’s idealist who sees a court system that too often seems rigged.
“The district attorney has amazing resources at their fingertips,” said Kohl. “They have the entire police department and the crime lab. For my cases, it’s usually just the attorney and me. That’s a lot of weight stacked against you from the beginning.”
Joel Rosenthal, a Milwaukee lawyer, has worked with Kohl on countless cases. Rosenthal praises Kohl’s dedication in addition to the unostentatious way he goes about his work.
“It’s not about the money for Bill,” said Rosenthal. “It’s about the commitment to justice.”
Kohl has worked with more than 200 Milwaukee-area lawyers and investigated more than 300 homicides. In spite of what might seem like a difficult case history, Kohl still considers himself an optimist.
“I like taking on the government,” he said. “Yes, many of my clients have made a mistake, but they are also fighting a system that will penalize them more harshly than if a suburban kid is charged with the same crime.”
Some 40 years after that California summer, Kohl still loves his work.
“Back then I was a bartender in Madison just taking a few classes,” he said.
Today, it’s colleagues such as Attorney Rosenthal who sum up Kohl’s work.
“Attorneys need the unheralded assistance of professionals like Bill Kohl.”