Brad Schimel Doesn’t Believe in Redemption
AG condemns award for rehabilitated lawyer and State Bar caves in to Schimel’s complaint.
One of the primary objectives of our criminal justice system is rehabilitation. So, when a person who gets convicted of a crime successfully reforms himself and goes above and beyond in doing so, one would think we should continue to encourage good behavior. But don’t tell that to Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who does not seem to be a big believer in second chances.
The State Bar of Wisconsin recently announced it would give an award to attorney Stephan Addison for his countless hours of volunteer work to help other lawyers struggling with addiction, stress and mental health issues. Addison worked for free, helping lawyers through the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP), and was initially selected to be the recipient of the 2018 Jack DeWitt WisLAP Volunteer Award.
Addison did not seek public recognition. He worked behind the scenes in this confidential and important service that is invaluable to so many struggling people.
But after the decision was announced, Attorney General Schimel condemned the State Bar of Wisconsin and the committee’s decision to give the award to Addison because of something unrelated to the award — Addison had been initially accused, though not convicted, of sexual assault relating to a 2005 incident in Green Lake County.
According to a report from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, where Addison was an Illinois lawyer at the time, Addison and his friend met a woman at a bar during the summer of 2005. Addison and his friend had been drinking alcohol. The woman agreed to drive Addison and his friend to Addison’s family’s summer residence. The three ended up engaging in sexual activity on the hood of a car at a boat landing near the residence. The woman complained to police.
Addison completed his jail sentence, community service hours and probation. The Illinois Disciplinary Commission found Addison’s actions were an “isolated act of poor judgment” and that Addison expressed “regret and remorse” and was “ashamed of his actions.”
But Schimel said the 2018 award should be rescinded because of the 2005 case and wrote, in part, “What type of message is the Wisconsin State Bar Association sending to the state and survivors of sexual assault …?”
And then, in a disappointing moment of cowardice, the State Bar of Wisconsin committee caved to the political pressure and rescinded the award, even though past conduct has reportedly never been taken into consideration for this award.
Addison took responsibility for his terrible actions by pleading no contest to three charges, agreeing to be placed on probation, successfully completing probation, serving jail time, performing hundreds of hours of community service, and losing and then ultimately regaining his law license.
Additionally, Addison continued to volunteer countless hours for the organization that helps lawyers struggling with addiction, stress and mental health issues. Addison has also apparently not committed any new offenses.
Does Attorney General Schimel believe in redemption? Or, is he willing to sit in judgment of another man for the rest of his life?
I do not know Addison. I have never met him. But from all accounts, Addison has done precisely what we want people to do after they make a bad decision and get convicted of a crime. We aren’t supposed to hang a scarlet letter from their necks forever.
No one should be defined by his or her worst moment in life. One might think Schimel would recognize this, especially because it was Schmel himself who owned up to his 1990 drunk driving arrest and conviction. While drunk driving is obviously different than what Addison was convicted of, the point is all of us make mistakes in life, whether those mistakes are criminal acts or not.
I would bet none of us would want to be defined forever by our worst decisions in life.
Redemption is not only important in criminal justice. Religious scripture is filled with references to the importance of mercy, forgiveness and care for sinners. We talk a lot about the importance of “second chances,” but do we put our words into action?
It is my hope that we afford our fellow citizens, even those who have been convicted of crimes, a second chance in life, especially if they have truly reformed themselves and gone above and beyond to help others. Doing so is far better than defining a person — until death — by his worst moment in life.
Casey Hoff is a criminal defense attorney based in Sheboygan.