Laura Crivello and her all-female team of assistant district attorneys have seen the worst of the worst over the years, dismantling drug-trafficking operations and prosecuting violent offenders in Milwaukee County.
“They’re a great group of girls — hardworking, dedicated,” she said. “They’re wonderful. They deserve this award as much as I do.”
Crivello, who has been with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office for more than two decades, noted that the violence she and her colleagues see is off the charts. And it’s become increasingly difficult to get witnesses to show up in court — something that wasn’t hard to do 10 years ago, she said.
Yet, Crivello manages to make her job look easy. In one three-year span, she helped officers obtain more than 440 search warrants and document subpoenas and more than 100 electronic-surveillance orders. In that same time period, Crivello oversaw several investigations involving wiretaps and charged more than 45 defendants. All of them, save for one whose charges remain pending, have since been convicted.
In 2015, she took on a complex racketeering case that required a 53-page complaint and took out a drug-trafficking ring that had been funneling about $11,000 a day to a heroin dealer in Milwaukee.
But watching the gavel come down on a defendant at a sentencing hearing isn’t how Crivello gets satisfaction from her job.
“It’s not like you walk out of the courtroom clicking your heels,” she said. “You don’t have the joy in that but you at least can make the community safer.”
Sometimes, however, a different kind of joy can occur in the courtroom.
“There’s no greater high than being in trial and having things fall your way, when everything clicks into place and you can almost hear angels singing. There’s no greater feeling,” she said.
Crivello said one of the biggest influences in her career has been Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who took over the district attorney’s office at the start of Crivello’s career.
Prosecutors, under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules, may only file charges supported by probable cause. But Chisholm, said Crivello, raised the bar and pushed his prosecutors to file charges only when they knew they could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. That has helped her formulate the meaning of justice.
“When you’re in trial, you’re in trial,” she said. “It’s all guns out. But before you get there you need to make sure it’s the right thing to do … you can’t win for the sake of winning.”