A slow path to justice: Wisconsin faces a shortage of prosecutors

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — When the pandemic started, many court hearings were delayed and it created a backlog of court cases. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul says without additional resources, this problem will continue.

It’s been said the wheels of justice turn slowly. The pandemic nearly brought it to a stop. La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke knows that all too well.

“We don’t get to shut our doors and say we’re not taking any more business,” said Gruenke.

While the doors of the DAs office remained open, statewide, it faced a staffing shortage.

“We lost a lot of people, we lost a lot of experience,” said Gruenke.

Attorney General Kaul says there’s fewer prosecutors because of a lack of funding.

“Crimes out there that need to be prosecuted don’t change because you have fewer DAs,” said Kaul.

In 2019, Governor Tony Evers announced the creation of 65 prosecutor positions across the state.

“Making sure they have the resources they need to effectively prosecute cases is critical,” said Kaul.

AG Kaul says while some steps have been taken to increase positions, it’s not enough.

“We need to invest in our criminal justice system. Our criminal justice system in Wisconsin has been underfunded for decades,” said Kaul.

DA Gruenke says when there aren’t enough prosecutors, it can lead to mistakes.

“You only have a certain number of things you can do and obviously, the more work you have and less people you have, something’s gotta give,” said Gruenke.

Gruekne says because of a staffing shortage, some cases may take longer to get to trial and the victims and their families pay the price, waiting for a resolution.

The DAs office isn’t the only one facing a staffing shortage. In August, a lawsuit was filed against the state of Wisconsin for violating the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. Many of them have been waiting months for a lawyer.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tony Evers announced $5.7 million of American Resume Plan Act funds will be used to fill Assistant District Attorney positions and $5.5 million will be used for the State Public Defender’s office.