Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Student presents analysis on Wisconsin prosecutor turnover

Scott Wood Scott Wood

Second-year student Scott Wood presented his analysis of Wisconsin assistant district attorney staffing to the executive board of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who attended the February board meeting.

"The staff level of Wisconsin assistant district attorneys is at a 10-year low, with 335.15 full-time equivalent positions," says Wood, who analyzed Wisconsin Department of Administration employment data. "Turnover averaged 11.7 percent from 2005 to 2014, hitting a 10-year high of 14 percent in 2014. The state has hired 406 assistant district attorneys to fill 191 positions vacated since 2005, which is an average of two hires per vacated position during that time."

"High turnover of prosecutors jeopardizes the delivery of justice and public safety in Wisconsin," says Milwaukee County assistant district attorney Peter Tempelis, a 2006 La Follette School alum who tapped Wood on behalf of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association to do the analysis after working with him on another project. "Beyond the cost to justice and public safety, ADA turnover has cost Wisconsin more than $20 million during the past decade," Tempelis wrote, citing Scott Wood's work in an article published March 6 in Wisconsin Lawyer, a State Bar of Wisconsin publication.

"Scott's analysis is helping WDAA's efforts of accurately and effectively informing policymakers in Madison regarding the ADA staffing crisis throughout the state," says David O'Leary, Rock County district attorney and WDAA president, from Janesville. "We appreciate Scott's work and service on behalf of justice and public safety."

Tempelis and his sister Mindy Tempelis, a 2002 La Follette School alum, are on the association's executive board. Mindy Tempelis is deputy district attorney for Outagamie County in Appleton.

Wood interned with the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office during his first year at the La Follette School. Recruited by Tempelis, who heads the Domestic Violence Unit in the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, Wood estimated the effects of a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held prosecutors generally cannot proceed to trial when a victim or material witness fails to appear to testify against the accused. That ruling, Tempelis wrote in an earlier article for the State Bar of Wisconsin's InsideTrack publication, particularly affects domestic violence cases with fearful victims and witnesses.

The Wisconsin Prosecutor, the official newsletter of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, re-printed that article in February, "A Case of Domestic Violence and Milwaukee County's Collaborative Work to Fight It." It highlights Wood's contribution to the research.

Wood conducted regression analysis of misdemeanor data from 1993 to 2013 from the Domestic Violence Unit. Wood found that when holding all else equal, the court decision led to a 1.33 percentage point decrease in conviction rate for domestic abuse law enforcement referrals. Wood noted that decrease is the equivalent of, on average, 133 fewer convictions each year in Milwaukee County, where there are on average 10,000 law enforcement referrals.

"The information Scott provided is helping us better manage the DV Unit in terms of its efficiency and effectiveness as well as the quality of our service to crime victims, defendants and the public," says Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm.

"In my opinion, Scott represents the very best of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and his work, the living embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea in action," Tempelis says. "Thank you to La Follette for their research and service on behalf of the university and the public."