Waupaca County’s new assistant district attorney was 40 years old when she entered law school.
Veronica Isherwood replaced Vicki Clussman, who was elected to serve as a Waupaca County Circuit Court judge earlier this year.
In addition to 13 years of experience as an assistant district attorney in Portage County, she brings two decades of professional experience prior to law school.
Isherwood, who grew up in Oconomowoc, majored in accounting as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
She began her career as an auditor for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, owned and operated a large day care center, then managed the Barron County child support agency before returning to school to earn a law degree.
“I had taken the LSAT Exam in 1979, but had a family instead,” Isherwood said. “I was an OWL – an older, wiser law student. We had a club.”
Isherwood graduated from UW-Madison in 1998. She interned at the Portage County district attorney’s office, then spent three years in private practice in Plover and Wisconsin Rapids.
“When there was an opening with the Portage County DA in 2001, they hired me,” Isherwood said.
As an assistant district attorney, Isherwood handled all of the juvenile justice and child protection cases. She also prosecuted 30 percent of the felonies and 33 percent of the misdemeanors.
Isherwood and other members of the Portage County district attorney’s office each handled nearly 1,000 cases per year.
“I did everything from possession of drug paraphernalia to homicide,” Isherwood said.
She also spearheaded some of Portage County’s most visible cases. In June, she prosecuted a homicide trial against Reymundo Perez.
“This is Feliz. He was the victim,” Isherwood said, pointing to a photo of a 2-year-old boy that is behind her desk at the courthouse in Waupaca.
“He basically beat him to death. He shook the boy so hard that he was brain dead and his spine was severed,” Isherwood said.
Isherwood became involved in the case in October 2011, prior to the boy’s death. She spoke to a social worker and police when the boy was transferred from St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield.
Two days after the beating, the boy died. Isherwood attended the autopsy. She began a long, arduous process of prosecuting the case.
“I had contact with the victim’s mother for 2 1/2 years,” Isherwood said. “I spent two full days in motion hearings. He claimed his statements to the police should be repressed because he didn’t understand English well enough.”
The judge ruled that Perez’s statements to the police were admissible in court.
During the nine-day trial, the defense tried to shift the blame for the child’s death to the mother.
The jury, however, found Perez guilty of first-degree reckless homicide and felony child abuse. He is scheduled for sentencing on Friday, Sept. 5.
“It was a really difficult case,” Isherwood said. “It was the only verdict I ever got that I cried when it came in.”
A prosecutor’s role
For Isherwood, a good prosecutor must have compassion for both the victim and the defendant.
“There are some very bad people out there and then there are good people who make mistakes,” Isherwood said. “We have that humbling power to have to differentiate between the two, to determine whether it’s punishment or rehabilitation. It’s really amazing that they ask another human being to do that without a crystal ball.”
She received the Prosecutor of the Year award from the state’s Assistant District Attorneys Association in 2008.
In 2012, Isherwood ran for Portage County district attorney after her former boss, Tom Eagon, was elected Portage County Circuit Court judge. She was defeated by Louis Molepske Jr., who had represented the area for the prior 10 years as an Assembly member.
“I respected Tom Eagon,” Isherwood said. “The office was different after he was elected judge.”
She said she has philosophical differences with the new management.
“I wanted to work in an atmosphere where we tried to help people become productive members of society, rather than measuring success by how long of a sentence you can get,” Isherwood said.
She noted that the Waupaca County courthouse offered a working environment that is more in line with her goals as a prosecutor.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Isherwood said. “Everybody treats everybody here with respect, whether they work here or they’re going through the system.”
Isherwood is married to a Portage County potato farmer and has five daughters and nine grandchildren.