Graham Kilmer
MKE County

District Attorney John Chisholm Won’t Seek Reelection

Chisholm has served as Milwaukee County District Attorney since 2007.

By - Jan 5th, 2024 01:22 pm
John Chisholm. Photo from Milwaukee County.

John Chisholm. Photo from Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm will not seek reelection.

“Since I was first elected in 2006, I have been clear that the District Attorney’s Office is here to serve the people of this community in a fair and just way that promotes safety,” said Chisholm in a statement. “After nearly 30 years as a prosecutor, it is time for me to pursue new endeavors, and for the people of Milwaukee County to choose a new District Attorney to continue the work of ensuring a safe, just, and prosperous community for all.”

Kent Lovern has long served as the chief deputy to Chisholm, a Democrat. Lovern is expected to run for the office.

“As I complete my term, I will work closely with Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern and our leadership team to ensure the continuity of all District Attorney’s Office operations,” said the outgoing DA.

Chisholm, 60, was preceded in the position by the long-reigning E. Michael McCann, who served for 38 years. Starting in 1994, Chisholm worked under McCann.

The DA is the top prosecutor for the state within Milwaukee County and elected to four-year terms in a fall partisan election. District attorneys are constitutional officers.

Chisholm, had he chosen to run again, would have been up for reelection this fall. The primary for the fall election cycle is scheduled for Aug. 13 and the general election on Nov. 5.

A career prosecutor, Chisholm was the subject of scrutiny in 2021 after Darrell E. Brooks, who was out on bail, drove into the Waukesha Christmas Parade, killing six people. Brooks was out on $1,000 bail for a felony domestic violence charge in Milwaukee County. Chisholm told a county board committee that an assistant district attorney “made a mistake” in the bail request under “really difficult circumstances.” A court commissioner ultimately approved the bail amount at the District Attorney’s Office request and Brooks was released five days before the attack.

He also found himself subject to state and national headlines, plus criticism and praise, starting in 2010 during the John Doe investigations into Scott Walker and associates for conduct during Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive and subsequent political coordination during Walker’s recall as governor. Six aides were convicted in the first Doe probe, with the Wisconsin Supreme Court terminating the subsequent probe.

Chisholm has otherwise operated with a fairly low profile, speaking in public but rarely giving press conferences or explicitly using the media when trying cases. He has appeared regularly, often alongside his judicial counterparts, before city and county committees in recent years to discuss issues and possible solutions to a backlog in the criminal justice system laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was last challenged in 2016, but defeated Verona Swanigan, by a 2-1 margin, in the Democratic primary. He has never faced a Republican challenger.

Chisholm holds an undergraduate degree from Marquette University and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. He is a past chair of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

What’s Next?

The election for district attorney will be the first without an incumbent since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement and a broader push for criminal justice reform.

Historically, district attorneys have risen out of prosecutors offices. But in recent years, successful candidates in elections across the country have come out of public defenders officers and criminal defense practices, often running on criminal justice reform.

A courthouse insider said the election is likely to draw candidates from across the political spectrum, and that it will be a brutal race.

It’s expected that early frontrunners will be independently wealthy attorneys, or politically connected candidates that can secure significant financial backing quickly.

While candidates may be drawn to the power of the district attorney’s office, the job can be punishing and entails frequent attacks from all sides of the political spectrum.

Jeramey Jannene contributed to this report.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Chisholm’s educational history.

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

One thought on “MKE County: District Attorney John Chisholm Won’t Seek Reelection”

  1. ZeeManMke says:

    Good for him! 30 years as the District Attorney in Milwaukee County is like 60 years anywhere else.
    He had to put up with crazy hypocrites who slammed him for trying to enforce the law against Scott Walker and his creepy cronies and then from Waukesha hypocrites who attacked him for one case out of thousands where a COURT COMMISSIONER set bail, not his office. He was not perfect but who is? I wish him well in the future.

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