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Defense attorney cuffed, chained at hearing

A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge on Friday had a defense attorney handcuffed and chained during a hearing on Friday for contempt of court.

During a hearing before Judge David Borowski, Assistant State Public Defender Puck Tsai was taken into custody for contempt of court, according to online court records.

Tsai, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2014, had been representing the Milwaukee resident Marcus Wilborn, who was charged in July with a felony count of homicide by the negligent operation of a vehicle. Wilborn had been released on signature bond in August.

On Friday, Borowski set a $2,500 cash bail for Wilborn over what appeared to be a diluted drug test that suggested that Wilborn may have violated his bond conditions.

Tsai was taken into custody after Borowski ordered cash bail, according to online court records.

Tsai later returned to court and apologized to Borowski, according to court records. Tsai was released, and Borowski stayed his earlier order for cash bail until Wilborn could be retested.

That test came out negative, and Borowski vacated his previous order and released Wilborn back on signature bond, according to court records.

Tsai was simply doing his job by being a strong advocate for his client, said Randy Kraft, SPD communications director, in a statement Monday.

“The fact that our attorney was taken into custody, handcuffed and belly-chained for doing his job is unacceptable,” Kraft said. “The impact on our attorney and his client is of utmost concern to this agency. The message this action sends to our attorneys, whose jobs are to be zealous advocates for the rights of their clients, undercuts a basic tenet of our justice system.”

Borowski could not immediately be reached Monday.

The Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has a taskforce that members can reach out should they find themselves in a similar situation. Chad Lanning, president of the association, said on Monday that WACDL is looking into the matter.

“We consider ourselves the preeminent organization for criminal defense practitioners,” he said. “We take this incident very seriously, and we’ll be looking into it to make sure that judges are properly exercising the power they have and criminal defense lawyers should not feel intimidated by what happened on Friday.”


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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