Wisconsin Spotlight | Nov. 2, 2020
MADISON — Waushara County’s district attorney has been AWOL for four months, leaving the county’s criminal justice system in disarray.
Laura Waite, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Tony Evers in April, hasn’t been seen in the courthouse since late June. She hasn’t been in contact with the district attorney’s office since Sept. 16 when she returned a brief text message, according to media reports.
Officials at the Waushara County DA’s office say the Wisconsin Department of Administration informed them in July that Waite would be on medical leave for six weeks, but she never returned to the office. Then she went radio silent.
The county’s corporation counsel has had to step in to oversee operations in Waite’s absence. And taxpayers are on the hook for two retired district attorneys helping keep the wheels of justice turning.
WBAY, which first reported the story, found bigger problems than Waite’s mysterious disappearance. The news outlet’s review of court records found several mishandled cases under the direction of the district attorney.
In a second offense OWI case, records show Waite cited case law that didn’t exist. The case was dropped.
“In another case, on that same day, Waite was unable to convince a judge to proceed with charges in a battery case, and the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled at a later date. They were refiled in an amended complaint in August, but by an assistant district attorney, and the defendant pleaded no contest to a battery charge earlier this month,” WBAY reported.
Waite worked as an assistant district attorney in Wood County before being appointed Waushara County’s top prosecutor. In a press release announcing Waite’s appointment, Evers noted the prosecutor’s “diverse legal background with extensive experience working with survivors of domestic and child abuse.”
The governor also said Waite was “exactly the kind of district attorney Waushara County needs.”
“She is capable, compassionate, and level-headed. Laura will provide Waushara county with a strong and sensible approach to criminal justice. I have no doubt that she will serve the people of Waushara County well in this role,” Evers said in April.
Officials from the Wood County DA’s office could not be reached for comment Friday.
Waite remains on the ballot for Tuesday’s election. It doesn’t appear her campaign is active. She reportedly attended a Zoom meeting in late July, giving the impression that things were fine in the office, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Democratic Party still was making donations to her campaign at that time.
Her Republican challenger, Matt Leusink, said he didn’t want to talk about his opponent’s issues, but said he is concerned about how the DA’s office is handling things in Waite’s office.
“It’s always important that cases get moving along. Most cases do not age well. Witnesses move out of state, sometimes a case takes so long they sick and tired and lose their resolve,” Leusink told Wisconsin Spotlight.