Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, March 11, 2013

Tempelis seeks justice for crime victims

Peter Tempelis

For Peter Tempelis, greater justice and protection for crime victims are the best outcomes.

The 2006 alum has been applying his management and legal skills to achieve justice since he started as a student in the La Follette School's dual-degree program in law and public affairs.

Since becoming team captain of the Domestic Violence Unit for the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, Tempelis has focused on identifying the team's mission and goals to determine how the unit can achieve greater justice and protection for victims and their children.

"The team handles prosecution of criminal cases involving intimate partner violence on behalf of the State of Wisconsin," says Tempelis, who has been an assistant district attorney with Milwaukee County since 2009. He supervises the unit's nine attorneys, handles training, sets policy and procedure, attends meetings with justice partners and prosecutes complex cases involving felony and chronic domestic violence offenders.

To improve the team's outcomes, Tempelis emphasized training. "Given that my team includes many new prosecutors, from new law graduates to some with six years of experience, I knew that mentoring and training were critical," he says.

Tempelis drew on his prior experience as a Jefferson County prosecutor and three years in the DV unit as he mentored many of the prosecutors. He set up 14 continuing legal education classes that covered topics such as trial advocacy, ethics, evidentiary and legal issues and specialized areas of domestic violence prosecution. "I also began to recognize prosecutors for exceptional work on particular cases," Tempelis says. "I also make sure that other team members, the district attorney and his executive committee are aware of their successes."

In addition to his La Follette management training, Tempelis used his statistical skills. "I looked to statistical outcomes to determine how we were doing across attorneys in the unit and the three courts before which we appear," he says. "I learned of various discrepancies in outcomes and am now working with the attorneys, victim/witness specialists (who are responsible for outreach), the judges and the defense bar to determine why such differences exist."

"Many issues affect outcomes in cases, including, among others, differences in attorney advocacy, outreach by victim/witness specialists, court processing and intimidation of victim/witnesses," he adds. "While we are still working on achieving better outcomes across the courts in all cases, we have improved by 30 percent our jury trial outcomes, while almost doubling the number of cases tried, which is quite difficult in the challenging area of domestic violence prosecution. It's a testament to the hard work and dedication of the prosecutors in the unit."

While at La Follette and the law school, Tempelis interned at the district attorney's offices in Jefferson and Milwaukee counties and at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Wisconsin. "Those experiences provided me the opportunity to work in state and federal prosecution, as well as serve in small and large district attorney's offices," he says.

Tempelis helped with legal research, wrote briefs, observed managing attorneys and line prosecutors and prosecuted cases. In his final year he served as an intern-prosecutor and later as public service special prosecutor under the Wisconsin Supreme Court's student practice privilege. "During that time, I charged cases, shadowed the district attorney, appeared for hearings, tried three jury trials and countless bench trials," Tempelis says. "I gained critical experience and perspective that allowed me to become an effective prosecutor and, ultimately, I believe, a more effective managing prosecutor. My La Follette School education, training and experience have been instrumental to my success as the head of the Milwaukee County's Domestic Violence Unit."

When Tempelis started at La Follette, he wanted to be a government prosecutor and ultimately a chief prosecutor. After running unsuccessfully for Jefferson County district attorney in 2008, he moved on to Milwaukee. In 2010, he became first lead prosecutor for Milwaukee County's Chronic Offender Outreach Program. "I handled all domestic violence cases involving offenders who had been referred for charges at least five times in the past year," Tempelis says. "I also had cases with high-risk offenders who were identified as likely to commit suicidal or homicidal violence. They were identified by the Sensitive Crimes Division and the Milwaukee Police Department. Through that program, including interagency team work, we significantly improved our outcomes."

Tempelis' service has been recognized. Jefferson County district attorney David Wambach gave him a plaque to honor his service to residents and a certificate for achieving guilty verdicts in his first homicide jury trial.

Through his service on the executive board of the Wisconsin District Attorneys' Association, Tempelis brought together stakeholders in 2010 to request the La Follette School study the turnover of assistant district attorneys across Wisconsin. Professor emeritus Dennis Dresang, an expert in public management, agreed to study the issue. "He and a team of students established that a broken and underfunded compensation system was the cause of what they determined to be an alarming turnover rate," Tempelis says. "The consequence of that study ultimately was that the Legislature passed a 17-step merit pay progression law for ADAs following advocacy by the Association of State Prosecutors and Wisconsin District Attorneys' Association, both of which utilized the study as justification."

He adds that Dresang has been a mentor to him throughout his years at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and now during his career as a prosecutor. "Professor Dresang taught me critical leadership skills and perspective, as well as management skills I use to this day," Tempelis says. "Most important, he has and continues to provide me encouragement, which has proven critical to my successes as a public servant and prosecutor."

Tempelis is one of three people in his family to graduate from La Follette. His sister Melinda (Mindy) and twin brother, Eric, also earned political science, public affairs and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"For people interested in government service, the knowledge, skills and experience you obtain at the La Follette School will make you the best public servant possible," Tempelis says. "My La Follette degree sets me apart in the field of criminal prosecution. Without it, I do not believe that I would be as effective a manager as the head of a prosecution unit. The faculty and staff of La Follette taught me critical and valuable skills, including how to analyze policy issues, how to analyze and assess process and outcomes and how to manage an organization, particularly one in the public sector."

"I never expected that I would have the opportunity and privilege District Attorney John Chisholm has offered me to lead a unit in a metropolitan district attorney's office like Milwaukee County's Domestic Violence Unit," Tempelis adds. "It is a dream job for me. I wake up every day and truly enjoy and love my job, which is not a job but a calling, serving victims of violent crime and their children."