Isherwood, Forseth speak in New London
By Scott Bellile
Waupaca County district attorney candidates Veronica Isherwood and Robert Forseth shared their stances and visions at the Wolf River Area Patriots Forum in New London on Aug. 30.
Democrat Forseth and Republican Isherwood are competing for incumbent District Attorney John Snider’s seat. The election is Nov. 8.
Here are excerpts and summaries of candidates’ answers to select questions asked by moderator Laurie Shaw, the New London-Weyauwega Joint Municipal Court judge. The questions were written by attendees.
Forseth: Forseth is an attorney at Werner, Johnson & Hendrickson S.C. in New London. He was raised in Waupaca. After graduating from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with undergraduate degrees in political science and social science, he earned his law degree at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During law school, Forseth interned under Snider.
Isherwood: Isherwood is assistant district attorney for Waupaca County. She grew up in Oconomowoc and lives in Portage County. She earned an undergraduate degree in accounting. She worked as a municipal auditor for the Department of Revenue Bureau of Municipal Audit before it closed in 1984. Then she bought a daycare and ran it for eight years before taking a job as director of Barron County Child Support Agency. As she earned her law degree, she interned for the Portage County District Attorney’s Office.
What exactly does a district attorney do?
Isherwood: “It is such an important job because if you charge somebody that you can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime, their name is all over CCAP, their picture is on Waupaca County’s Most Wanted, their name is on CCAP forever and it can ruin their reputation. We then have to prosecute those cases. The most important thing is also giving the advice to law enforcement because if they don’t collect the evidence correctly, we can’t use it in court and it gets thrown out and then people who may have committed a crime can go free.”
Forseth: “In addition to the prosecution of crimes, the district attorney is also to act as an advocate for the public. As an advocate, the district attorney is responsible for understanding the public that they represent and getting their ideas and addressing the problems of the public.” He added there’s administrative work in running the office like writing a budget, ensuring staff have the resources they need and working with other Waupaca County departments.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for the DA position?
Forseth: “I was born and raised here. I got a lot of established networks within the county. I understand the values of the county and the people within the county. I understand that because I’ve been here my entire life. I’m going to be here for the rest of my life. I have no expectation of actually leaving the county. I feel that makes me the best advocate of the county because I understand the needs of the public and understand what the problems the public is actually facing right now.”
Isherwood: “I’ve actually been practicing law for 20 years as a prosecutor for over 15 years. I’ve had many jury trials. I’ve prosecuted many different kinds of cases … I believe that my experience not only in government – I’ve been a department head, I have experience with accounting and budgets, my experience just in life and owning businesses – all of those experiences together makes me the best candidate for district attorney. I don’t have to learn the job. I already know the job.”
Anyone that lives in our area knows that there has been some recent negative media coverage of our Waupaca County DA’s office and the DA’s office in general. What is your plan to recover the image of the office?
Forseth: “Being out in the public, being seen. It’s very important that the district attorney is available to the public to actually talk and explain to them what the issues are and listen to the public’s concerns … The other thing is to make sure cases are moved along and that nothing is going to bring that office down. So getting the prosecutions in a timely manner and moving cases and having a very functional office.”
Isherwood: “Frankly I’d have some concerns with being out in the community and talking too much about it because so much of what we do is confidential. It’s one thing to talk about the problems, but individual cases are confidential, anything under investigation is highly confidential until there’s actually a public document filed in the clerk of courts office, the criminal complaint. So I think that the way to restore the confidence is to charge the cases out promptly, to charge them out fairly, to prosecute them vigorously and to prosecute them in the shortest amount of time possible.”
How many criminal jury trials have you conducted? How many criminal cases have you been the primary attorney on? And please give some insights as to why experience in criminal law does or does not matter in the DA office.
Isherwood: She’s had more than 80 criminal jury trials. In Waupaca and Portage counties, she’s been the primary attorney on more than 5,000 criminal cases in each county. She began answering the third question by explaining how as an intern she appeared in court, worked slowly and made mistakes, but her time limit to speak ran out.
Forseth: He’s conducted few criminal jury trials because most of his cases don’t go to jury. For criminal cases he’s been primary attorney on, he said “several.” Answering question three, he said experienced attorneys make for a functional office. “The more experience you get with anything, the better it is. But as far as doing prosecution, we all come out of law school with the education and the background to actually do trails and go after the elements of the crime. As far as being experienced, you wouldn’t pass the bar exam if you didn’t understand the laws you were dealing with.”
What experience do you have with prioritizing and leading or managing staff?
Forseth: Forseth works among a small staff, but he’s opening a bar in Waupaca where he’ll lead more. At UW-Stevens Point, he was the executive director of the student government. As head coach for the Waupaca High School wrestling team, he helps kids and does much behind-the-scenes work. He is secretary for Badgers Den Brewing Club. He’s also organized brewing and wine tasting events for the Waupaca County Fair.
Isherwood: Running a daycare center, Isherwood managed a staff size of 25 to 30 at age 24. As director of the child support agency, she managed a staff of 15. She’s been a town clerk for 10 years and served on a school board. Now her biggest management role as assistant DA is overseeing 500 open cases, most of which have defense attorneys. The audience laughed at her remark, “The best way to learn management is to learn to manage defense attorneys because it’s not easy and they don’t listen.”
With your knowledge of the DA’s office and how it currently operates, what areas do you think need improvement and what is your improvement plan?
Isherwood: She hopes to gain back a half-time assistant position the state cut. Implementing a paperless office would save thousands of dollars in secretarial work, mailing and copying. She said current DA Snider “hates the computer, he hates the cell phone. He has a lot of good things going for him. Technology isn’t one of them.” Cases need to move faster. “There has to be either an incentive to settle the cases early or disincentive not to.”
Forseth: “The big thing will be going into the paperless filing and getting rid of the hard files. Now, no office ever goes completely paperless. It’s kind of a misnomer. You still have a file, but what the paperless files do is you don’t have to take them into court as much. That’s the big thing that I think has to improve in that office. The biggest struggle with the technological advances in that office and getting them implemented is getting the staff to actually adopt them.”
When you decided to run for this office, what caused you to align with the political party that you chose? What makes you a member or supporter of that party?
Isherwood: “I’m very conservative, extremely conservative, and the way I think about the world, the way I think about government aligns with the Republican Party. But I hate that the district attorney’s race is a political race. It doesn’t matter if a defendant is Republican or Democrat or what their race is or what their religious persuasion is. We’re about doing everything fairly [for] every single person.”
Forseth: Forseth said during his college days he explored both political parties. The Republican leadership “shunted” him while the Democrats welcomed him and listened to him. “If you really want my viewpoint and where it would line up politically, it actually lines up more along the lines of Libertarian: Keep government out of your business. There’s not a Libertarian party around here.”