Name it, and Emilie Wehr can probably find it.
She’s been asked to find some of the strangest things, from a flip-flop to a person who goes by the name Big Feet — and managed to find them all.
But it’s not all fun and games. Wehr is an investigator for the trial division of the Kenosha Public Defender’s Office. Often, whoever or whatever it is that she’s looking for doesn’t want to be found. And the job can be dangerous.
“I don’t work with a partner so nobody knows where I am,” she said. “We have no radio. Sometimes it’s OK to stay and you can be confident and make it through. Other times where you can tell someone’s high or drunk or you’ve walked into a really bad situation … you just back out.”
Local Attorney Manager Carl Johnson has worked on various cases with Wehr. One of them had her track an elusive witness all the way to a rough neighborhood in Chicago, where she was able to obtain important information for the case they were working on.
“She’s just persistent, and she doesn’t have any fear,” Johnson said. “She just really jumps in and does what she needs to do.”
Beyond finding people, Wehr interviews them to help lawyers build their cases. Her ability to break through to hostile or reluctant witnesses has earned her the reputation of being the “witness whisperer.”
“I try to meet people at their level and always remind myself to be humble, kind and empathetic,” she said. “I give them a chance to talk.”
But Wehr’s talents haven’t always been put to use benefitting Johnson’s office and its indigent clients. Wehr had once worked for the other side of the criminal-justice system. Before joining the Kenosha Public Defender’s office, she had worked as a police officer in West Allis.
In the end, the change wasn’t a stretch for Wehr. She found herself relying on many of the same practices and techniques she had developed as a police officer.
She also noted the experiences she and her husband have had fighting for their twin sons, one of whom has autism. She can see him in many of the office’s clients, who cannot afford legal representation and suffer from mental illness.
“I realized my husband and I had the resources and knowledge — what about those people who don’t?” she said. “I realized, ‘Wow, our client could be our son.’”
Johnson said Wehr is good at balancing her time between her job and caring for her sons. He said that the work Wehr does often has her out and about at all hours. Yet, even with those responsibilities, she’s able to make sure she spends time with her boys.
“I don’t know exactly how she does all that,” Johnson said, “but she does a really good job.”