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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Criminal Walks Free

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Assistant District Attorney Daniel Gabler is running a throw-back, racially tinged campaign for Milwaukee Circuit judge, attacking judges and defense attorneys for allowing dark, shadowy criminals to walk free.

That’s pretty funny since a special prosecutor said Gabler broke the law, yet he’s allowed out on the street to run anyway. Gabler and his opponent, Fox Point Municipal Judge J.D. Watts, appeared at the pre-election forum held by the Community Brainstorming Conference, a monthly gathering of African-American leaders and ordinary folks from Milwaukee’s black community to discuss public issues.

Milwaukee Children’s Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro asked Gabler about his attacks on defense attorneys and why he had engaged in race-baiting with an inflammatory campaign flier illustrated with a black shadow representing criminals.

Gabler’s response was similar to Richard Pryor’s quick thinking when his wife caught him in bed with another woman: “Are you going to believe me or your lyin’ eyes?”

Gabler denied what the audience could see for themselves as the campaign flier circulated around the room. “The truth is I have never spoken in a negative fashion about defense lawyers,” Gabler said. Although his private practice had been in business law, he said he once acted as a defense attorney for a businessman charged with drunken driving.

Beyond that, he said: “The notion that I was race-baiting is quite honestly ludicrous. It’s just simply not true.”

Boy, you sure could have fooled those reading his flier. The flier, which has been compared to the infamous Willie Horton ad of the first George Bush, is dominated by a scary black shadow and is headlined: “Tired of criminals walking free?”

It goes on to describe Gabler’s experience as a prosecutor and to attack his primary opponents, Watts and Ronald Dague, as lawyers who “have a record of defending criminals.”

What made the attack on Dague even more dishonest is that Dague, unlike Gabler and Watts, has never worked as a defense attorney. Dague works down the hall from Gabler as an assistant district attorney.

In fact, a special prosecutor appointed to investigate whether Gabler’s flier violated campaign laws concluded that the attack on Dague was not only untruthful, but probably illegal as well.

The special prosecutor, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Richard Ginkowski, said there was enough evidence to charge Gabler with committing a crime, whether Gabler was a liar. In other words, even though there was evidence Gabler had violated the law, he would be allowed to walk free. We thought Gabler was tired of that sort of thing.

Based on a Myth

Hearing Gabler publicly deny his own campaign literature, I felt compelled to ask a couple of follow-up questions at the community forum.

Because my wife, Kit, works in advocacy to try to reform the criminal justice system, I knew the entire premise of Gabler’s flier was based on a myth perpetuated by rightwing radio. Criminals do not walk free in Milwaukee County. Those charged with crimes, particularly violent crimes, go away for a long, long time. That’s one of the reasons for Wisconsin’s enormous racial disparity in incarceration, imprisoning a larger percentage of its African-American population than any other state in the union.

So I asked Gabler: If the black shadow didn’t represent black criminals, what did he intend it to represent? And just who were these judges in Milwaukee County who let dangerous criminals walk free?

Gabler once again claimed the black shadow had nothing to do with race. “What do you want me to do? It’s a silhouette.”

His response about judges was a single anecdote. He said he once prosecuted a drunken driver and a judge gave less time than he recommended as the prosecutor. It’s interesting Gabler should cite drunken driving, the only crime for which he has worked both as a prosecutor and defense attorney.

Good judges listen to the arguments on both sides. They don’t automatically accept the recommendation of the prosecutor. Maybe the defense attorney presented a better case than Gabler did. It would be interesting to know whether the defense attorney did a better job for his client than Gabler did for the businessman he represented as a defense attorney.

Several judges and lawyers have withdrawn endorsements of Gabler because of his outdated scare campaign.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is not the only politician now suggesting giving earlier release to nonviolent offenders to save the enormous, often counterproductive costs of incarceration. Kansas and Colorado are actually closing prisons. New Jersey is replacing jail time for parole violators with community programs. Michigan and Kentucky are increasing early release.

Many more nonviolent offenders can lead successful, productive lives in the community if given the same opportunity Gabler received from a special prosecutor.

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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