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Judge ‘Restorative Justice’ leaving

By M.D. Kittle 

Wisconsin Spotlight | Nov. 18, 2022

MADISON —  Darrell Brooks Jr. is going to spend the rest of his life in prison. But the people he hurt and killed in the Waukesha Christmas Parade Massacre would very likely be here unharmed today had it not been for Milwaukee County’s revolving door criminal justice system led by “progressive” justice jurists like Mary Triggiano.

Triggiano, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Chief Judge, is stepping down to lead Marquette University’s Andrew Center for Restorative Justice, the university announced this week. She is expected to take over sometime next year for former liberal Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske.

Triggiano, who was appointed chief judge in early 2020, departs as Milwaukee County Circuit Court is buried in a case backlog thanks in large part to her strict COVID mitigation policies that long kept courtrooms locked down. She has also been a key proponent of the kinds of alternative experimental criminal justice reforms that have caused a lot of heartbreak in Milwaukee County and beyond over the past several years.

“Perhaps no one in Milwaukee County has done more to bring restorative justice practices to the justice system than Triggiano,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asserted in a glowing story this week. The article noted “Geske first exposed Triggiano to restorative justice approaches on a trip to Green Bay Correctional Institution in the early 2000s.”

’A way of being’ 

Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. “Encounter, Repair, and Transform,” or so the philosophy goes. 

Defenders like Triggiano see restorative justice as the fix for what ails criminal justice and the overcrowded prison system. Critics say it is more feel-good failed justice that has put public safety in peril.

Restorative justice “seeks to justify and exonerate the criminal. The push for restorative justice has already led to a pullback in prosecuting crimes,” wrote Mike Gonzalez, a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in a piece late last year on skyrocketing homicide rates.

Triggiano is viewed as a leader in Wisconsin’s trauma-informed care movement, a key cog in restorative justice that seeks a deeper understanding of the criminal’s past pain. While there is proven merit in the concept, its principles have been liberally applied by liberal courts like Triggiano’s.

“Trauma-informed care is not a program. It’s not a project. It is a philosophy and a way of being,”  she said in a 2016 interview. In a featured story, she told convicts before her prison diversion court, “You’re speaking your truth.”

‘Most lenient bail’ 

The progressive reforms are at the heart of Milwaukee County’s low bail/no bail environment that has cheaply released career violent criminals like Darrell Brooks to go on to kill.

In early November 2021, less than three weeks before the Waukesha parade, Brooks had been arrested on charges of Second Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Battery, Obstructing an Officer, and Bail Jumping. In that incident, Brooks was accused of running over his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his child — with the same SUV he used to mow down parade-goers.

He was released on just $1,000 bail. Days later, Brooks drove into the crowd, killing six people — including an eight-year-old boy — and injuring scores more.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm blamed his office’s “inappropriately low” bail recommendation on “human error.” An assistant DA, he said, didn’t have access to Brooks’ public safety assessment, although Brooks, a convicted sex offender, had a long and violent rap sheet in Milwaukee County.

Commissioner Cedric Cornwall, who signed off on the bond figure, had the discretion to review Brooks’ history and not simply green-light the prosecutor’s recommendation, Triggiano said.

The Brooks’ case wasn’t a mistake or an anomaly.

Former Waukesha prosecutor Tom Grieve told Fox News Digital that Milwaukee has the most lenient bail in all of Wisconsin — and that Brooks’ release for allegedly running over his ex-girlfriend five days before he plowed the same SUV into holiday revelers Nov. 21 was the norm.

“It’s standard for Milwaukee,” said Grieve, who now heads the state’s largest criminal defense firm. “This is not bail you would be getting in Waukesha County, that’s for sure.”

Fox News noted three cases around the same time as the Waukesha Christmas Parade Massacre in which violent suspects were back out on the streets on low bail shortly after their arrests.

A MacIver Institute special investigation in 2019 on Milwaukee County’s failed “alternatives to incarceration” featured the story of  Marcel Vanlandingham. The violent criminal reportedly walked out of the Milwaukee County Courthouse in September 2019, pulled out a gun, and shot a man twice right on Wells Street in broad daylight.

“It was another indication something is very wrong with Milwaukee’s criminal justice system,” MacIver’s Bill Osmulski reported. “Vanlandingham was supposed to be in jail at the time, and he was not allowed to possess any firearms for a year. He had been convicted of disorderly conduct at the start of the month, but the judge stayed his 30-day jail sentence.”

Vanlandingham was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and another two-and-a-half years of extended supervision. Knowing he had a shot in the soft-on-crime court system, Vanlandingham’s attorney sought a sentence adjustment.

Speaking their truth 

Things have only gotten worse under the case backlogs that Triggiano and her media apologists like to blame solely on COVID-19. Milwaukee County’s COVID lockdown policies pitted excessive public health mandates versus public safety.

Brooks is a prime example of the misguided mitigation efforts led by Triggiano. Brooks was arrested in July 2020 and charged with three felonies after authorities say he shot at his nephew during a fight. In February 2021, just nine months before the Waukesha parade, his cash bond was “adjusted down” to just $500. The overbooked court system, under Triggiano’s direction, had held Brooks too long, imperilling his constitutionally-guaranteed right to a speedy trial.

The families of Brooks’ victims have been forced to live the what-ifs.

“I feel gutted and broken. It hurts to breathe sometimes,” Sheri Sparks, the mother of Jackson Sparks, the 8-year-old who was killed in the parade massacre, said this week at Brooks’ sentencing hearing. “My mama’s soul aches for him.”

Aliesha Kulich, 18, the daughter of Jane Kulich who was viciously run over by Brooks, said she’s never felt so alone.

“I never thought I’d be capable of feeling this much pain in my life.”

Brooks’ victims were speaking their truth in the wake of the damage done by liberal jurists like Judge Mary Triggiano.

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