Who knows? Ismael Ozanne may yet prove to be an excellent Dane County district attorney. He worked in the office as an assistant DA for 10 years and has management experience as deputy secretary of the state Department of Corrections.
People seem to like him, generally speaking, and his appointment by Gov. Jim Doyle has been called historic. "As far as we can tell, he's the first African American district attorney - not just in Dane County but the entire state," says Doyle spokesman Adam Collins.
Ozanne, 39, was tapped by Doyle to replace DA Brian Blanchard, elected to a state appellate court. He won't face voters until the fall of 2012.
The job had three contenders: assistant DA Tim Kiefer, deputy DA Tim Verhoff and Ozanne.
In the weeks prior to Doyle's June 18 pick, letters flowed into his office from lawyers, judges, law enforcement officials and others. These letters, provided for Isthmus' review in response to an open records request, show that almost all expressed support for the same individual - and it wasn't Ismael Ozanne.
In fact, Ozanne received just two letters of support - from Amy Smith, a Dane County judge tapped by Doyle last year, and Daniel F. Lee, a local Realtor. Kiefer also got two letters, from state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys and state Sen. Jon Erpenbach.
Verhoff, meanwhile, got 77 letters, many singing his praises at length. His backers include a veritable who's who of local lawyers: Steve Hurley, Stephen Meyer, former DA Hal Harlowe, former State Bar president Gerald Mowris, Daniel Rottier, Dennis Burke, Mark and Stephen Eisenberg, Ben and Eric Schulenberg and former DA Brian Brophy.
Also in Verhoff's camp were seven Dane County judges (John Markson, Richard Niess, John Albert, Daniel Moeser, David Flanagan, Bill Foust and Shelley Gaylord) and 16 current and former members of the DA's office, including Deputy DA Judy Schwaemle and Blanchard himself.
"I am not aware of any attorney who comes close to matching Tim's qualifications for the position," wrote Blanchard (PDF). Schwaemle's letter was even more pointed, saying she'd helped hire all three applicants and knew their work well: "Among them, only Tim Verhoff possesses the necessary qualifications to serve as district attorney...."
And Assistant DA Kenneth Farmer wrote an endorsement of Verhoff that read like a warning to Doyle: "In this day and age, the last thing we need at the helm is a district attorney that is inexperienced or not well supported. The boat is already rocking with all of the difficulties we encounter. It would be advisable not to rock it further."
Consider it rocked. One local attorney, speaking on condition of anonymity, calls the guv's choice of Ozanne "astounding," adding, "This one really smells. Any independent board, any independent process, just would not have chosen him."
According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's online database, Kiefer has donated $1,400 to Doyle's campaigns over the years, most recently in 2006; Ozanne made five contributions totaling $2,000, all since June 2008, after Doyle's last election.
Of course, the lopsided letters tally may show merely that Verhoff and his supporters did a better job of lining up support. Doyle also did sit-down interviews with all three contenders, in early June.
"As you would expect, the governor's decision is not made by counting up letters," says Collins. "These decisions are based on background and experience - who the governor feels has the ability to carry out the job."
Ozanne, whose appointment begins Aug. 1, returned the second of five calls from Isthmus and agreed to talk further, but then did not respond to subsequent contact attempts. Bad sign.
On the other hand, Ozanne is getting praise for his management picks, announced last week. As deputy of the felony unit, essentially the office's number-two job, he tapped a fellow named Tim Verhoff.
[Note: The print version of this article incorrectly gave Ozanne's age as 40, and incorrectly reported that only Ozanne contributed to the governor's campaigns.]
Fighting for his rights
Madison lawyer Joel Winnig says he's running for Wisconsin Supreme Court because a new law aimed at improving the integrity of the process makes it possible for him to win. The only problem: An old rule aimed at protecting the integrity of the process makes it impossible for him to run as he'd like.
The new law is Wisconsin's Impartial Justice Act, which provides public financing of up to $100,000 in the primary and $300,000 in the spring election - and potentially much more to counter profligate spending by, or independent expenditures on behalf of, opposing candidates.
To qualify for this largess, candidates must raise between $5,000 and $15,000 from at least 1,000 state residents, in amounts between $5 to $100. But an existing Supreme Court rule that recently withstood legal challenge bars judicial candidates from asking anyone for money or directly accepting it. Others must do this for them.
Winnig, 55, a local lawyer specializing in family law, hopes to run for Supreme Court next spring, when longtime Justice David Prosser is expected to seek another term. He registered as a candidate on June 24, and on the same day sued the Office of Lawyer Regulation, an arm of the Supreme Court, for impeding his ability to raise funds.
"If I'm not fighting hard enough for my own rights, why should people believe I'll be fighting for theirs?" asks Winnig, who hopes to run his campaign as much as possible by himself. "The minute I say somebody has to help me find 1,000 people, that dilutes my message."
Federal Judge William Conley on July 7 denied Winnig's request for injunctive (immediate) relief, citing a recent federal appeals court ruling upholding the state's judicial fundraising ban. Winnig says the court was concerned about potentially corrupting contributions of up to $3,000, and he's talking about $5 to $100 amounts. "It's not the same thing."
Expecting ultimate rejection from Conley, Winnig hopes to get the appeals court to take a fresh look at the issue, so he can run the race he wants. He knows that by blazing this trail, he'll likely encourage competition: "People will say, if Joel Winnig can do it, how hard can it be?"
Mayor is wrong
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz blew a gasket over an article in last Saturday's suggesting that city plans for a fully rebuilt, three-story Central Library might be scaled back. He dashed off a blog post entitled "Library Story Is Wrong," claiming that the article by veteran city hall reporter Dean Mosiman "has no journalistic basis for existing" and that "no new information...justified" suggesting the renovated building might lack a new faade or third floor.
Um, Mr. Mayor?
Mosiman reported (and Cieslewicz did not dispute) that the city has asked its architect to prepare only schematic designs for the faade and third floor, and quoted an architectural firm official as saying, "We don't even know if we need a third floor." Library director Barb Dimick allowed that "anything's possible," and Cieslewicz himself stated, regarding the third floor and new faade, "I can't guarantee it."
Being a newspaper reporter these days is hard enough without being cheap-shotted over what is, by any measure, a legitimate story. If Mayor Dave wants a three-story building with a new faade, he should commit himself to making that happen, not attacking reporters who point out that the city is apparently vacillating on this goal.