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Going from teacher to public defender, Giesfeldt finds way to still help children

By: Alex Zank//September 19, 2017//

Going from teacher to public defender, Giesfeldt finds way to still help children

By: Alex Zank//September 19, 2017//

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Matthew Giesfeldt - State Public Defender’s Office
Matthew Giesfeldt – State Public Defender’s Office

Matthew Giesfeldt has always loved helping children.

This means it should be no surprise that, before deciding to become a lawyer, he had worked as a teacher for four years.

Even now, with his job in the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s office, he often finds himself working with children.

Giesfeldt specifically represents children who are alleged to be delinquent or in need of protection and services, as well as adults who have been placed on mental commitments and guardianship and protective placements.

Giesfeldt said his decision to hit the “reset button” from being a teacher to a lawyer came after his mother, Margaret Giesfeldt, died of cancer in 2009. Her death made him, a 25-year-old who was living day-to-day on a teacher’s salary, rethink his career choice.

What helped push him toward law were his fond memories of a school-law class he had taken while working toward a Master’s degree in educational psychology.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to try this law school thing,’ “ Giesfeldt recalled thinking.

The career change was met with skepticism from his father at first, who didn’t think it was wise to make a switch at the beginning of an economic recession. Giesfeldt remembers one his father’s friends, who was a lawyer, asking him what cab company he would work for once he graduated from law school.

Even before joining the public defender’s office, Giesfeldt had worked with a group of other public defenders to found the Student Expulsion and Prevention Project. Also known as StEPP, the project recruits and trains pro-bono attorneys to represent children at expulsion hearings.

His work with that project is in fact what ultimately led Giesfeldt to his current role following time spent at both a small family firm and the state Government Accountability Board, an agency that has since been dissolved by lawmakers.

“It was kind of a really good fit,” said Giesfeldt of working at the public defender’s office. “I kind of got here with no real specific intentions, but every step along the way seemed to make sense.”
“Now, I’m incredibly happy,” he said.

That’s especially true since he finds himself helping children again, which is exactly what he wanted to do when he set out to become a teacher.

Giesfeldt and his wife are co-presidents of the Mama Goose Memorial Run/Walk, a 5-kilometer community race in Verona. Giesfeldt founded the race in 2009 in honor of his mother Margaret.

The run’s name comes from Giesfeldt’s childhood nickname “Goose.” In a logical extension, his friends would call his mother “Mama Goose.”

Any proceeds brought in by the race are donated to the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center in Madison. The event raises around $5,000 a year on average, Giesfeldt said.

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