Liberal judge's lenient sentencing under scrutiny in last lap of pivotal Wisconsin high court race

There are at least five cases in which violent offenders who received light sentences from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz went on to reoffend.

Updated: March 30, 2023 - 12:05am

In the homestretch of Tuesday's high-stakes election for the deciding seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz is facing mounting scrutiny for her lenient sentencing record in felony cases involving violence against women and sex crimes against children.

Protasiewicz has been "a soft-on-crime judge in cases that are shocking to the conscience," said Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Brian Schimming.

In the election, which will determine whether the court maintains its 4-3 conservative majority, Protasiewicz is facing off against former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly for a 10-year term to replace a conservative justice who is retiring at the end of her term in July. 

If liberals gain the majority on the court, they could repeal Wisconsin's 1849 abortion law, right-to-work legislation passed under former Gov. Scott Walker and school voucher programs and alter redistricting maps.

Protasiewicz "was a soft-on-crime assistant district attorney … under sitting Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the one who allowed, essentially, the Waukesha parade killer to go out and be on the streets," Schimming told "Just the News, No Noise" TV show on Monday.

Days before Darrell Brooks, Jr. plowed his SUV into the Waukesha Christmas parade and killed six people in 2021, he was, on the recommendation of Chisholm's office, released from prison on $1,000 bail following his arrest for domestic abuse and eluding police. 

Chisholm, a George Soros-backed prosecutor, later admitted that he had set the bail amount "inappropriately low" for Brooks.

Chisholm has been the Milwaukee County district attorney since 2007. Protasiewicz served more than 25 years as assistant district attorney before becoming a judge in 2014.

In a 2018 case, 17-year-old Kenneth Blair was charged with three felonies for having sexual contact with 7-, 8-, and 11-year-old girl relatives. In a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree child sexual assault, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 60 years.

Despite prosecutors recommending Blair receive a two-year prison sentence and eight years of extended supervision, Protasiewicz gave him three years' probation and credit for 200 days served in jail.

Later, in 2021, Blair was charged with two additional felonies — sexual contact with a child under 13 and repeated sexual assault of the same child — but they were dismissed due to flaws in the criminal complaint.

Anton Veasley pleaded guilty to two felonies, third-degree sexual assault and child enticement, in the abduction and rape of a 15-year-old girl. Although he faced up to 35 years in prison, Protasiewicz sentenced him to four years of probation and credit for 417 days in jail, after initially imposing then staying a four-year prison sentence and four years of extended supervision.

Last summer, Veasley was charged for being a felon in possession of a handgun. 

In 2019, Iraida Pizarro-Osorio was charged with chronic neglect of a child causing great bodily harm after her 16-year-old son died weighing 42 pounds, a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Under a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to a felony count of neglecting a child carrying a maximum sentence of 12 1/2 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

While prosecutors recommended prison time for Pizarro-Osorio, with the length of the term to be decided by the judge, Protasiewicz instead gave her four years of probation and credit for 332 days in jail, after initially imposing then staying a four-year prison sentence and four years of extended supervision.

Protasiewicz was asked by CBS 58 in February if she would rule differently in these three cases if she could go back in time.

"I would say no," Protasiewicz answered. "If I knew different factors, would I? But no. Here's the situation: every single case is unique. I would not be ruling differently on cases just to help me in a race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Integrity is one of my hallmarks, absolute integrity. I looked at what I looked at in each one of those unique cases and made a decision that I thought was appropriate."

In 2015, Lazarick Spade brutally beat his estranged wife after escaping from a prison work-release program in which he was serving a nine-month sentence for abusing their child.

Initially, Spade was charged with felony battery in the assault on his ex and faced up to a 10-year prison sentence, but the charges were reduced in a plea deal and Protasiewicz sentenced him to six months in prison.

Then, in 2017, Spade shot his ex-wife multiple times outside her Milwaukee home. She suffered three gunshot wounds and was hospitalized, but survived. Spade was convicted of attempted first-degree intentional homicide by a jury in 2019 and is serving 40-year prison sentence.

In another case, Protasiewicz released a child sex offender without a prison sentence. The offender then went on to kill a woman in a drunken car crash.

Protasiewicz suggested last week that was the "one case where someone reoffended," and "indicated hindsight is 20/20."

Despite the judge's claim, there are at least five cases in which violent criminals who received lenient sentences from her went on to reoffend.

Protasiewicz didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

While the state Supreme Court election is nonpartisan, Protasiewicz is viewed as the liberal candidate, and Kelly as the conservative, with the former receiving millions of dollars from the Wisconsin Democratic Party and Republicans funding ads supporting Kelly.

This is the most expensive state Supreme Court race in U.S. history, with tallying $27 million in spending for the race overall, including the primary election that took place in February.