Marathon County district attorney evaluating extra programs as prosecutor shortages strains resources

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- The Marathon County district attorney is continuing to make a case for the county to help with a steep shortage of prosecutors in her office and is taking action to alleviate her staff's extra work.

Marathon County District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon explains to the county public safety committee the realities her office faces in making life-changing decisions as the prosecutor shortage continues.

The shortage was the focus of much of the county's public safety committee meeting meeting Wednesday afternoon.

District attorney Theresa Wetzsteon said in the meeting she is in the process of evaluating what extra reformative programs it offers the county with the probability of the office cutting the programs or at least cutting its involvement. She said while her prosecutors and people in her office take great pride in those programs, it adds extra work for a staff that is in short supply.

"I need to watch out for our prosecutors because every day we make decisions," she began, "before I came up here, I'm making a decision of what felonies to charge this guy with in a half-an-hour's time because we have all of these people to charge and these are life-changing decisions every day and I'm going to make sure those are done with quality. And that is my responsibility as a prosecutor and if I can't meet that responsibility, then all of these extra things, they're going to go."

Some of the extra programs the office initiated or has supported are post-conviction initiatives like the drug court, the pre-plea treatment of OWI offenders, and others.

She said the county's partnership to help fund the prosecutors at the beginning of the last decade enabled the office, while still short prosecutors, to take on these additional programs.

Marathon County received the largest allocation of prosecutors in the state in the state's latest biennial budget, but it still is short nearly six prosecutors. Wetzsteon said the reason they got the largest allocation is because of the county's partnership with the district attorney's office. She explained it showed the state that Marathon County was supportive of the initiatives and mission of the office to go beyond the basic duties and provide restorative programs for its residents.

She said they are also down three additional prosecutors as one recently left the position and two others are on leave.

In the last meeting, the committee approved to draft a resolution that would be sent to the state, urging leaders to fund the positions it shows the county needs to perform its duties to the citizens of Marathon County. Wetzsteon said, that won't do anything.

"We have been working behind the scenes for 20 years to get to this point and this is where we got," she said. "It's not coming; the cavalry is not coming."

She said she has talked with Sen. Jerry Petrowski along with other area state legislators, but she said she is not confident any help will come out of those conversations.

County board chair, Kurt Gibbs told NewsChannel 7 the board is looking at any additional places it can help alleviate some of the shortages and strain on the district attorney's office.