WAUPACA COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) – Tuesday, Waupaca County voters will elect a new district attorney for the first time in decades.
Over the past year we’ve been investigating the Waupaca County District Attorney’s office after we found a pattern of reducing drunk-driving charges.
Back in May, Target 2 Investigates uncovered dozens of cases where drivers were charged with OWI but ended with just parking or speeding tickets and little to no jail time. We couldn’t find a pattern of that happening more than a few times in any other part of Wisconsin.
At that time, D.A. John Snider took responsibility but couldn’t explain why charges were reduced 30 times.
After our report aired, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said he was “shocked” and would look into it. A DOJ spokesman tells Target 2 that Schimel has since spoke with Snider and determined no investigation is warranted unless residents come forward with other information.
Snider decided this past spring he would not run for re-election. He plans to retire at the end of thi syear.
A Democrat and a Republican have come forward looking to fill that seat.
For the first time in 34 years, voters will have a choice in deciding Waupaca County’s new district attorney, choosing between two lawyers.
Robert Forseth is a defense attorney with five years’ experience focusing mostly on estate planning at a New London law firm but assists other attorneys in criminal law and feels now is the right time to run for office.
“I wasn’t going to run against John Snider because I did an internship under John and I didn’t feel it would be right to stab him in the back and turn around and run against him,” said Forseth, a Democrat.
Veronica Isherwood is an assistant D.A. in that office now with 15 years’ experience as a prosecutor — two in Waupaca — and says she felt compelled to make changes.
“Your stories actually inspired me, and I had seen things happening in the district attorney’s office,” said Isherwood, a Republican.
Based on our Target 2 investigation, we asked both if the reduction in OWI charges would continue.
“I would make that clear to the judges that it is not sanctioned by the district attorney’s office without my approval,” Isherwood said. “Prior to coming to Waupaca County, I had two cases such as this in my entire career. They should be very rare, and when law enforcement is out risking their lives to make these stops, we have to do everything we can to support them and to support the safety of the community”
“That would never happen,” Forseth said. “The guidelines are there for a reason.”
Forseth said his sister was killed by a drunk driver a decade ago. The driver went to prison for four years.
“After that day, I’m starting to think that we might have done more damage by putting him into prison and having him get punished that severely,” Forseth said. “The deterrent has to be there, but on a case-by-case basis.”
In February, Target 2 discovered two Waupaca County homicide cases were not charged for more than two years.
Both candidates tell us they would prioritize cases and understand the challenge of restoring trust in that office.
“The reputation will have to heal itself through good services to victims and good services in our cases,” Isherwood said. “If you look at my record since I’ve been in Waupaca County, those types of cases are charged within days of us believing that we have the suspect, and I think that is inherent in public safety.”
“I think it does require having the presence, being seen in the community, and just talk with people and opening up those communication links,” Forseth said.
Law is a second career for Isherwood. She previously ran a day care and worked for a child support agency. She decided to to go law school after watching attorneys working the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Forseth grew up in Waupaca, is the high school wrestling coach, and is part of a group opening a winery, distillery and brewery in Waupaca. He doesn’t feel it would be a conflict of interest for him to operate that.