Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

John Chisholm Crushes Sheriff Clarke

The sheriff takes some pot shots at DA, only to get mowed down, in an entertaining -- and very revealing -- exchange.

By - Jun 11th, 2014 09:49 am
Sheriff David Clarke

Sheriff David Clarke

At the outset it’s worth noting that the campaign season is upon us, and the recent debate between Sheriff David Clarke and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm may have been all the more heated because of that. Clarke is running for reelection in August and victory is far from certain, so he may be looking to win votes by picking fights with the justice “establishment” in Milwaukee County. Chisholm is a Democrat and his fellow party members would love to see the defeat of Clarke, who runs as a Dem but espouses views to the right of many Republicans.

Clarke wrote a four-page letter to Chisholm asking him to suspend the use of plea bargains, deferred prosecution and the like. Chisholm responded with a densely detailed, five-page letter that was filled with fascinating details about how the justice system works, and Clarke offered a three-page letter of rebuttal.

So who had the best insults?

Clarke typically blasts officials without getting equal heat, but not this time. To the sheriff’s initial letter accusing Chisholm of a “soft-on-crime” approach, Chisholm offers some choice slap downs:

“I don’t work in a fancy office. I don’t have a public relations office spinning out propaganda 24 hours a day, and I don’t have horses or a fat public pension waiting for me. I don’t spend my time on talk radio or 3 month Southern California junkets… I know it is more fun to style yourself as the lone voice… but the things you say have all been said before, and require neither courage nor particular insight.”

Clarke then replies in kind, suggesting Chisholm is just “angry” from “the pressure you brought on yourself” by pursuing “a time and resource-consuming investigation targeting Scott Walker and groups engaged in free-speech activity protected by the First Amendment.” Clark goes on to accuse the DA of “bloviating” irrelevantly, being one of “phonies” who “feign understanding the dangers officers deal with every day” and of using “social engineering” resembling, I kid you not, “the use of human subjects in the Tuskogee experiments that began in 1932.” Meet John Chisholm, the Josef Mengele of Milwaukee.

All highly entertaining, if you go in for that sort of thing. Meanwhile, who does better on the merits of the argument?  That’s where things get interesting. For starters, Chisholm offers a detailed take on how Clarke has reduced the manpower dealing with the problems he presumes to solve.

“Your agency (the sheriff’s department) does not investigate homicides, nor does it have the capacity to do so after long years of neglect at your hands,” Chisholm writes. Clarke offers no denial.

The sheriff’s office, Chisholm notes, used to have 18 deputies assigned to help the DA’s anti-gang squad and to identify and arrest firearms offenders, but all that has been lost due to Clarke’s decision to disband the units in his department handling this work.

District Attorney John Chisholm

District Attorney John Chisholm

“I don’t have the luxuries you have indulged in at the expense of the Milwaukee County taxpayers,” Chisholm writes. “I can’t decide to refrain from witness protection, homicide prosecution, sexual assault prosecution, gun prosecution and domestic violence prosecution because I don’t have the resources.” Incredibly, Clarke offers no denial of  this.

“Instead of creating a four million dollar deficit for County taxpayers, in part because you have your deputies collecting overtime while sitting passively in chairs watching courthouse security personnel work, you could instead assign them to work with the Milwaukee Police in the creation of a gun violence task force,” Chisholm chides. Once again, no response from Clarke.

As I’ve written before, the Sheriff’s office handles a minuscule amount of the county’s violent and property crimes, just one-fifth of one percent of all the crimes in a recent two-year period. The Milwaukee County Sheriff has never handled that much crime, but it was news to me that Clarke has slashed even the little manpower assigned to such tasks.

“Why did you take these steps? Because you said they were too expensive,” Chisholm notes.

Yet Clarke wants the DA’s office to end all plea bargaining, which would have massive costs, as Chisholm notes. “Even the most right-leaning, tough-on-crime states in the country like Texas have recognized that such costs are not sustainable, and have instead adopted the programs for which I advocate, as the rational balance between public safety and resources,” Chisholm writes. “I ask you to show me any jurisdiction in the country that does not allow plea bargains, probation dispositions and read-in charges for Part 1 offenses.”

Once again, Clarke offers no direct response, but does suggest Chisholm read Judge Ralph Adam Fine’s book assailing plea bargaining, Escape of the Guilty. It may be that Fine offers some answers to Chisholm’s very specific points, but Clarke can’t marshall any. Perhaps Clarke hasn’t read the book himself. Indeed, his letter offers a professor’s summary of Fine’s book. Better than CliffsNotes, I suppose.

Chisholm also details the high conviction rate his office has had for violent crimes like homicides and aggravated assaults. “I ask you to explain how Milwaukee can have the highest incarceration rate in the country if the prosecutors and courts are not ‘tough on crime’?” No response from Clarke.

“No prosecutor’s office in the country… is more open to outside evaluation and assessment than ours,” Chisholm writes. “If you participated in the Community Justice Council you would know this. Here is a list of the entities we have invited to help us improve our system: The Vera Institute of Justice, the National Institute of Corrections, the Center of Court Innovation, the National Institute of Justice and Measures for Justice, to name just a few. Milwaukee County is recognized by outside criminal justice professionals as a leader in justice reform, despite your refusal to participate in this process.”

Once again, not a word of reply to this from Clarke.

And that leaves out much more Chisholm had to say. Far from bloviating, the DA wiped the floor with Clarke.

Short Take

In 2010, Clarke won the Democratic primary with 53 percent of the vote to 47 percent for opponent Chris Moews, who is running again this year. Clarke seems more vulnerable this time, and may be more in need of crossover votes by Republicans.

But they would have to bypass the GOP primary, which includes contested races for State Treasurer and Secretary of State. Those aren’t very sexy races and I could imagine some Republicans deciding the race for sheriff is more important.

Moreover, the Democratic primary challenge to Congresswoman Gwen Moore by Gary George gives an additional reason for GOP voters to cross over into the Democratic primary, to vote against the very liberal Moore.

Which prompts the question, who is supporting George? One rumor is that Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor is still stung by the loss of a candidate (Millie Coby) she supported against Rep. Sandy Pasch in 2012, and because Moore supported Pasch, Taylor has pushed George to run. (Taylor did not respond to my phone and email messages about this.)

Of course, Republicans who want to drive the crossover vote for Clarke might also support George’s run.

Update 11:30 a.m. June 12Lowell Fissinger, an aide to Taylor, emailed me to say that “Senator Taylor is not supporting Gary George against Gwen Moore.”

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

21 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: John Chisholm Crushes Sheriff Clarke”

  1. Gary says:

    Other than not being David Clarke, can anyone define what Chris Moews would do differently with the Sheriffs Office? I emailed his campaign last week and I have not received a response.

  2. Frank says:

    @Gary – to answer your question, nothing. Moews has proven that he will be in the backpocket of the Mayor, County Executive, and union should he be elected. Oh, and he promises that he’ll play nice with everyone. Sorry, I don’t want a ‘nice’ sheriff, I want a tough, honest sheriff.

    Keep in mind that back in 2010, Clarke won 53-47 without a single crossover vote as they all stayed on their side of the ballot to vote in the Walker/Neumann primary. There won’t be that caliber of race keeping conservatives on the right side of the ballot this time.

  3. PMD says:

    I really don’t like Clarke or his leadership style. Insulting other elected officials by publicly commenting on their manhood, that’s puerile and stupid. His interests seem limited to picking fights, calling people names, and receiving media attention (no such thing as bad publicity right). But talk is cheap. Anyone can call other people names and talk tough. Should I be ignoring what I dislike because he is actually a highly effective sheriff? Does the guy even really like being sheriff? Maybe I’m wrong, but he seems more interested in talking smack or making provocative statements than touting what he is accomplishing on the job. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time for a new sheriff.

  4. Robert says:

    Chris is not going to be a “nice” sheriff. He’s going to be logical, work with all municipal and county leaders, and for the first time in 12 years the sheriff’s office will have real leadership. Clarke is already heading for a $4million+ deficit because of his own inability to manage his office. He’s costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars because he refuses to hire new deputies and makes his current deputies work overtime. That’s not good for the deputies personal safety, nor pubic safety. Moews isn’t in anyone’s pocket. The fact that everyone has reached out to him and wants him to be sheriff shows that he has an ability to actually work, manage, and perform. Not just blast press releases and sit in front of a camera.Clarke is ineffective. Inefficient. And endangers public safety. People are done with this. If you care to read, like I have, you’ll see that he’s all about leadership, fiscal accountability, and being tough and smart on crime. Like Moews said, Clarke isn’t tough on crime; he’s loud on crime.

  5. bcm says:

    Pretty sure that at this moment, our fine sheriff is drafting a 3 page response to slam Bruce Murphy.

  6. Matt says:

    Being sheriff can’t be too tough if one can abandon the position to chase down a “degree” from a “school” in California while the rest of Milwaukee is so pleased by the departure that no one even seemed to notice or care that he was gone. No one seems to care whether he got this degree or what it is in, or if he wrote a thesis, or what his grades were, or if he had good attendance, or if he was a cheerleader or perhaps a member of the Dean’s list or any of the other kinds of things one might generally ask a person who is applying to keep the job that seems to work just as well without him. So the question of Clarke’s effectiveness is best answered by how nobody noticed he was gone. If we don’t need him, we don’t need him.

  7. Bruce Thompson says:

    If nothing else I would expect Moews to work much better with others, such as the mayor, the police chief, the county executive, and the DA. That in itself would be refreshing.

  8. George says:

    How much of this “Degree” did the county pay for? Did the county pay for housing, food, books, transportation, and the cost of the program? Also, was this done during work time or PTO?

    The county pays a yearly salary of $132,290 to the sheriff. Can’t we find someone more qualified and willing to work for this?

    There are three ways to get the jail population down. We can either hand out shorter sentences for non-violent crime, decriminalize victim-less crimes like drug possession, or we can educate and rehabilitate people. These should be the things the Sheriff is talking about through the newspapers, radio, and TV.

  9. Frank says:

    So like Bruce Thompson said, basically he’ll be a puppet of the Mayor, County Exec, and union doing whatever they say.

    According to the JS, the degree was a master’s degree through the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Not sure why people slam anyone for pursuing advanced degrees in areas that directly relate to their jobs.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Frank I’m fairly certain that the police unions are more closely allied with Clarke and Walker than Barrett. Note it was Walker who protected the police unions from ACT 10 (after many of them endorsed him)

  11. PMD says:

    So Frank you think Clarke is doing a good job as sheriff? You approve of his leadership style as well as the results he’s getting? What accomplishments would you point out? I know some are a fan of his rhetoric and conservative beliefs. I’d like to know if that’s all they like about him or if there are specific accomplishments they can point out.

    The police union endorsed Walker and seems to be an ally. What about the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriff’s Association? Did they endorse Walker or Barrett?

  12. Frank says:

    @Dave – you need to understand the difference between the police union and the deputy sheriffs union

    @PMD – I don’t approve of everything that Clark does but by and large, yes, I’m fine with is approach and style. I cannot stand the approach of people like Barrett who brings NOTHING to the table and continues to sit on the sidelines when it comes to his crumbling inner city. But you wanted accomplishments of the sheriff’s dept. i think the job he’s done with the lakefront over the years is second to none. I think drunk driving enforcement is at a very high level and continues to improve. his takeover and subsequent turnaround of the old HOC was impressive, unfortunately Abele, in one of his childish tantrums, decided to take it away from him. Clarke also came in at budget, or under, for a majority of his years at the helm (this year has been an anomaly thanks to Abele’s personal vendetta against him). I also commend clarke for trying to rid his department of many incompetent deputies who then get reinstated by the review board/union.

  13. PMD says:

    I like Clarke’s stance on drunk driving. It’s a serious problem that this state (generally speaking) doesn’t take seriously enough, and I like that he speaks out about it. Same with getting rid of incompetent deputies like the one who plowed into that woman and then lied about it.

    But seriously, Abele throws childish tantrums but Clarke’s leadership style is fine? Insulting another elected official’s penis size isn’t childish? Come on. That’s ridiculous. Clarke doesn’t do himself any favors when he makes statements like that, and it obscures the positive, like his work to fight drunk driving.

  14. Dave Reid says:

    @Frank I stand corrected. Yes it was the Milwaukee Police Association that endorsed Walker.

  15. stacy moss says:

    Fantastic article.

    I love the point that Clarke never read the book.

  16. Mike Bark says:

    Clarke is sort of a double edged sword. On the one hand he brings up and sometimes is the only leader out there that talks about things like crime and some of the problems going on. He has been solid on some issues like drunk driving and also cleaning up some of the problems that were at the Lakefront.

    On the other hand he often undermines himself by engaging in some pretty childish antics in his dustups with other leaders.

    I think the one thing we can all agree on is that David Clarke is really into David Clarke. He has practically made himself a Mao-esque figure on all the Sheriff’s stuff that’s out there.

  17. fightingbobfan says:

    As to what Moews would do differently than Clarke, that’s easy. Run the sheriff’s department more, much more, professionally than Clarke.

  18. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Milwaukee is in the top ten most violent. Barrett, Flynn, Chisholm are in charge. They do nothing. Chisholm spends his time on political witch hunts, time and money that can be used to fight violent crime. Clarke took over big mess in HOC, fixed it. Clarke has taken huge hits in numbers of deputies for political reasons by little rich boy Abele whose money bought him a toy. Clarke has to do certain things by law and he does not have enough staff to cove courts, security, parks and freeways. Clarke is top respected official in Milwaukee county by public, by far. Out state 90% popularity. He and Donovan are only people exposing the incompetence of the three stooges in leadership.

  19. PMD says:

    Little rich boy? Strange insult from a conservative. But good for you for being an adult and not resorting to puerile name-calling like Clarke.

  20. Gary says:

    Still waiting for Moew’s plan. It would be nice if a reporter asked him what he would do differently than Clarke.

  21. Denise says:

    They BOTH need to go!

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