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  • WisBar News
    April 24, 2015

    Attorney General Schimel Tells State Bar Board: Opiate Problem is Top Priority

    Joe Forward
    Legal Writer

    Attorney General Brad SchimelApril 24, 2015 – Less than four months into his first term, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel today told the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors about his transition to office and his vision of service as the state’s chief attorney.

    The 52-member board invited Schimel – who took office Jan. 5, 2015 – to speak at its meeting in Madison, where the former Waukesha County District Attorney shared his top priority, Wisconsin's opiate problem. He said the State Bar can help in addressing this issue.

    Schimel used terms like “unpredictable” and “unnerving” to describe his first days on the job, but says he’s adjusting well to his responsibilities as head of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, an agency with five different divisions.

    “I’m in the whirlwind, I’m getting used to things, and I’m having a good time,” Schimel said. “Everything that reaches my desk is consequential.”

    Schimel, who manages about 675 employees, including 95 prosecutors, said Wisconsin is currently among the one-third of states with the worst heroin problems in America. According to 2013 estimates, Wisconsin has about 163,000 intravenous drug abusers, Schimel said.

    “In many counties, including Milwaukee, you are more likely to die from an accidental heroin overdose than a traffic crash,” he said. “We have watched the number of opiate-related overdose deaths quadruple in the last decade. Could you imagine what we would do if we saw the number of traffic deaths quadruple?

    “We’d put a round-about every 200 feet,” Schimel said. “We’d lower the speed limit to 15 miles per hour. We’d do a lot of crazy things. I’m trying to get people to recognize that we have to do some crazy things to [to manage the opiate problem].”

    Schimel said this is an area that the State Bar of Wisconsin can really help. “The opiate problem is something that’s going to take all hands on deck. Everyone is going to have to be involved in solving this problem.”

    Drug treatment and diversion courts, Schimel said, will be a key to addressing the issue. He asked the State Bar to be a partner on convincing courts, county boards, and state government that treatment and diversion courts need the proper funding to operate.

    “They work. They are making a difference,” Schimel said. “They throw out the old idea that you can fix addiction by punishing the person. That doesn’t work.”

    He said treatment courts allow people to get sober while developing the tools to stay clean when they finish a program. “This isn’t just feel-good stuff. It’s been studied, and it’s evidence-based. We know that they work. And it’s a smarter way to approach it.”

    Schimel said the State Bar can be a partner in generating support for the funding necessary to put more people through treatment. And he noted the State Bar’s past efforts to help attract and keep experienced prosecutors on board in Wisconsin by supporting pay progression for assistant district attorneys.

    “You’ve helped the Legislature recognize that the best thing we can do for justice is to make sure guilty people get locked up and innocent people don’t, and that in between, justice is meted out in a way that makes good sense for our state’s safety and health. The best thing you can do is have experienced prosecutors making those decisions.”

    Schimel noted that good prosecutorial decision-making is more important than ever before since arrests and convictions are freely open for public view on the Internet.

    “Fifteen years ago, when I charge somebody, no one was really going to know about it,” Schimel said. “Now it’s so easy. The Internet makes the consequences leave a much bigger scar than ever before.”

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