New DA on the job
Before he was even sworn in Tuesday, Douglas County’s new district attorney, Mark Fruehauf, was on the job. Sunday, he stopped by the site where a fatal New Year’s Day shooting had occurred.
"Going down to the scene is important, I mean it’s important to get your own look at it," Fruehauf said. "It’s going to save me a lot of time and trouble down the road if I’m trying to picture the scene and envision where things are. It’s going to help me in court ask the right questions and have a much better knowledge of the scene."
While many Northland residents were enjoying a day off Monday, Fruehauf attended the autopsy for shooting victim Kyle Androsky.
"This was my second autopsy. That’s another thing that, I think, when the case gets to me that’s going to be really helpful," the district attorney said. "I’ve already talked to the medical examiner; I’ve seen how the autopsy worked. I know what I’m looking for; I know what to ask."
Voters can take it as a sign of things to come.
"As much as I can on those major cases where there are major felonies committed, I want to be there," Fruehauf said.
It’s not an investigative role.
"All I’m doing is observing and then just trying to see what I’m going to need to remember and make use of when the case finally gets to me," Fruehauf said.
For the first time in 25 years, the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is under new leadership. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Fruehauf, who served as an assistant district attorney in the office from 2010-2012.
"I felt much more comfortable coming in yesterday for the first time than I did as a fresh out of law school assistant DA," Fruehauf said Wednesday. "Yesterday it was nice to get re-acclimated, introduce myself to people, and see how things are working."
It was also busy. Fruehauf was sworn in at 9 a.m., and attending status conferences 15 minutes later.
"I had wall-to-wall court basically," he said. "I was in court for most of the morning, most of the afternoon, so that’s no different than being an ADA."
The difference now, he said, is that it’s apparent people in the office are looking to him as the boss. Fruehauf said he’d like to sit down with staff to discuss ways to make the office work more efficiently when time allows. At least he has a full staff of two and a half assistant district attorneys to work with, thanks to a Tuesday hire.
"We are fully staffed right now. I just had a new hire, yesterday," Fruehauf said. "It was a two-for-one-deal on prosecutors."
James Rennicke brings more than 20 years of legal experience to the office, including a stint as the Rusk County District Attorney.
"We’re going to make sure he hits the ground running," Fruehauf said. "It was very good timing."
Retaining assistant district attorneys is tough in the current climate, Fruehauf said. They haven’t seen any pay progression for years, and the starting salary for an assistant district attorney in Wisconsin is about $6,000 less than in Minnesota.
One of the big issues facing the area, and the justice system, is drugs.
"Drugs affect so many different kinds of crimes," Fruehauf said, from property crimes to violence. "We can save so much money and headache for victims by dealing with the problem now as opposed to just crime, jail, crime, jail. If we can do something to cure the problem, I don’t think you’re going to see these people in court very much anymore."
Fruehauf said marijuana use and the use of drugs like meth and heroin are at different levels of severity and should be treated differently, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all problem.
"I draw a distinction between the user and the dealer," Fruehauf said. "I am very interested in doing what I can to get the user to the door for treatment."
The county has a small drug court, which the district attorney would like to see expand. Treatment options are limited locally, as well.
"But anything I can do to help a user get to the door for treatment and try to get them to walk through, chances are I’m not going to see them again in the system. I think that’s justice," Fruehauf said. "Dealers, however, I guess it all depends on the circumstances, but I have far less sympathy."
At 32, Fruehauf isn’t the youngest district attorney in Wisconsin. But he’s bringing a fresh eye to the office. The district attorney was asked if he had anything to relay to the public, any message about what they can expect.
"I guess the message is this office is going to do everything it can to work hard to be efficient, to make good charging decisions and to send strong messages where appropriate to defendants that commit crimes in our county," Fruehauf said.