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Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm will not seek re-election

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//January 8, 2024//

District Attorney John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm (center) is administered the oath of office by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Michael Brennan on January 9, 2007, at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in Milwaukee, Wis. At right is Chisholm's wife, Colleen. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm will not seek re-election

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires//January 8, 2024//

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By Vanessa Swales and Daniel Bice, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Long-time Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm won’t run for re-election, the Journal Sentinel learned Friday.

The surprising decision by Chisholm, 60, a Democrat, scrambles Milwaukee County’s legal landscape and opens a path to an office held by just two people since 1969. Chisholm’s office confirmed his decision later Friday.

“After nearly 30 years as a prosecutor, it is time for me to pursue new endeavors, and for the people of Milwaukee County to choose a new District Attorney to continue the work of ensuring a safe, just, and prosperous community for all,” Chisholm said in a statement.

E. Michael McCann served for decades in the role before being succeeded by Chisholm, who took office Jan. 1, 2007. Chisholm was reelected to the top spot in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Chisholm, who was born in Milwaukee and a graduate of Marquette University, entered public service in 1986 when he enlisted in the United States Army. He later received an honorable discharge at the rank of first lieutenant. He then went on to receive his law degree from the University of Wisconsin.

McCann hired Chisholm as an assistant district attorney in 1994. Chisholm prosecuted misdemeanor, domestic violence, and felony narcotics cases until he was appointed as supervising attorney of the Firearms Enforcement Unit in 1999, where he prosecuted violent gun offenders. He also previously served as a chair of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Chisholm’s top deputy, Kent Lovern, is expected to run for the office, the Journal Sentinel learned. Chisholm said that while he completes his term, he will work closely with Lovern and his office’s leadership team.

Chisholm’s reforms gained national attention

Chisholm has touted his progressive reforms since he took office. He created specialized units targeting witness intimidation, child abuse, and gun-and-drug-related crime.

His approaches gained national attention from the criminal justice nonprofit national research and policy organization, The Vera Institute of Justice, and media like The New Yorker.

He won convictions against former Milwaukee police officers for illegal strip search and body cavity search practices. By the same token, he came under fire by some members of the Black community for not charging crimes in the death of young Black men at the hands of police, including Derek Williams in 2011 and Dontre Hamilton in 2014, as well as three white customers at a West Allis convenience store, who were not charged for the death of Craig Stingley in 2012.

Criticism over John Doe investigations

Chisholm came under intense criticism for his handling of what became known as the John Doe I and John Doe II investigations into Scott Walker and his associates. At the time they were conducted, Wisconsin’s John Doe law allowed prosecutors to operate in secret and compel people to turn over documents and give testimony.

John Doe I, which began in 2010, resulted in six convictions of Walker aides and associates for campaigning with public resources, exceeding political donation limits, stealing from a veterans fund and other crimes. Those crimes stemmed from a time when Walker was Milwaukee County executive.

John Doe II looked into whether Walker’s campaign for governor illegally worked with conservative political groups on recall elections. The state Supreme Court shut down the investigation in 2015, saying nothing illegal had occurred.

A number of Republicans accused Chisholm of leading a partisan probe of his political enemies. But GOP officials were never able to field a strong candidate against Chisholm in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County.

Chisholm also established a Public Integrity Unit that won convictions against Democrats such as then-Milwaukee County Supervisor Toni Clark and Milwaukee Alds. Chantia Lewis and Michael McGee Jr. Chisholm’s office lost at trial in a case against Democratic Johnny Thomas, then a county supervisor, for alleged bribery.
Waukesha Christmas Parade controversy

Chisholm’s office came under scrutiny after Darrell Brooks was released on $1,000 bail in a domestic violence case, five days before Brooks went to mow his vehicle into the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade, killing six people and injuring 60 more.

Chisholm later said the decision to recommend low bail in the Milwaukee County case was a mistake and came as an early-career prosecutor in the middle of a jury trial reviewed the bail decision. He said the assigned prosecutor looked at Brooks’ most recently posted bail — $500 — and doubled it. She did not have access to the risk assessment when she made that decision because it had not yet been uploaded to the case management system, he said.

Contact Vanessa Swales at 414-308-5881 or at [email protected]. Follow her on X @Vanessa_Swales.

This article has been republished with permission from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


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