Growing up, Suzanne O’Neill was motivated to help others.
In her adult life she found the ideal way to do that with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office.
O’Neill started as an assistant state public defender in 1991 before being promoted to manager of the Wausau SPD office in 2004, and then regional manager in 2017, where she supervises SPD offices not only in Wausau, but also Merrill, Rhinelander and Stevens Point, which represent clients in 13 counties.
“I was always driven to provide the best possible defense to my clients,” said O’Neill, adding she has handled a wide variety of cases from juvenile to homicide. “I still have my own caseload in addition to managing the other staff. It’s a balance I have learned to work out.”
Growing up in Oak Park just west of Chicago, O’Neill would often travel to the city with her parents. She witnessed people in need and was always looking for a way to help. O’Neill determined a legal career representing those who could not afford their own attorney was one way to make a difference.
In addition to her busy caseload and management responsibilities, O’Neill is active in multiple Marathon County and statewide organizations. In Marathon County, she’s been past-president of the local bar association, a member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, OWI Treatment Court Committee and the Committee to Implement Trauma Informed Care and Evidence-Based Decision Making Initiative – just to name a few. Statewide, she is involved in SPD’s Leadership Development Program and the SPD’s Affirmative Action Committee.
“If you can affect system change beyond your clients, that is even more rewarding and I think that is part of why I have become so involved,” she said.
Jennifer Bias, trial division director for the SPD, said O’Neill is seen as a leader in the community.
“Suzanne has become recognized as a leader not only by the SPD staff, but other related professionals in Marathon County,” Bias said.
O’Neill said working with children and teens means a stronger future for everyone. She lives that out by volunteering with teens as a high school mock trial judge and by teaching a law class at a local high school.
“It’s better to be busy than be idle,” O’Neill said.