Ismael Ozanne has performed well under intense pressure as Dane County’s district attorney.
The six-year incumbent has resolved controversial legal cases through consensus. He’s targeted child abuse by educating parents. As Wisconsin’s first black district attorney, Ozanne is a strong role model for young people.
The State Journal editorial board endorses Ozanne over challenger Bob Jambois in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Because the two men are the only candidates running for district attorney, Tuesday’s primary essentially decides the race.
Ozanne’s finest moment as the county’s top law enforcement official came last year as the nation wrestled with a string of police shootings of unarmed black men across America. In the national spotlight, Ozanne methodically and convincingly explained why a Madison police officer would not be charged in the shooting death of Tony Robinson.
Ozanne helped calm our community, and peace prevailed on the streets.
Ozanne similarly resolved two high-profile cases with racial overtones to the satisfaction of victims, community leaders and law enforcement officials. He chose not to charge a black UW-Madison student who spray-painted provocative messages on campus buildings. Instead, he referred the 21-year-old to a program requiring community service and meetings with victims. Ozanne applied the same process to a 19-year-old black woman who struggled with police during her arrest at East Towne Mall.
Ozanne made a strong case for giving the young people a second chance, provided they fulfill their restitution.
Under Ozanne’s leadership, Dane County has aggressively prosecuted the most violent criminals while also expanding specialty courts, including for drug offenders. That’s being tough — and smart — on crime. Many offenders break the law to feed their addictions. The drug court requires treatment and testing to stop bad behavior.
Jambois, Ozanne’s challenger, claims the district attorney’s office is in disarray. Jambois is a former Kenosha County district attorney who joined Ozanne’s staff as an assistant district attorney last year.
Jambois is a talented prosecutor. But his sharp criticisms of his boss don’t ring true. He accused Ozanne of never coming into the office, for example. Yet Ozanne’s schedule and electronic records of when he entered and left work show he’s regularly on the job — as well as out in the community building support for broader changes in the legal system.
Jambois faults Ozanne for not carrying a significant caseload. But as the district attorney in the state’s second-largest county and the seat of state government, Ozanne has to manage a large and complicated organization. He’s not a front-line worker. And he’s had to investigate and rule on many officer-involved shootings.
Ozanne spent a decade as an assistant district attorney and previously worked as a top official for the Department of Corrections. So he understands both ends of the criminal justice system.
Jambois is right that Ozanne’s office has suffered high turnover. But many of those people retired or left for better paying jobs.
Ozanne should always remember he’s a prosecutor, not a social worker. And sometimes his zeal for labor unions seems overtly political.
Nonetheless, Ozanne is the best choice for district attorney on Tuesday’s ballot.