Interviews with Christopher Ladwig and Benjamin Wesson

Christopher Ladwig

Christopher Ladwig


Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Education: B.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison (Political Science), J.D., University of Wisconsin Law School
Employment: Assistant District Attorney, Milwaukee County
Law School Activities:

Q: What led you to this work?
When I got hired as an assistant district attorney I knew I had an opportunity to use my legal education to serve the public and immediately step into a courtroom and begin prosecution of some of our state’s worst criminals. As I expected, the work of a prosecutor in a large city was extremely exciting and daunting due to the enormous caseloads and pressure to find justice in each case. After a few years, I was approached by District Attorney John Chisholm ‘94 and Deputy District Attorney Jeff Altenburg ‘91 who asked me to join Milwaukee’s Community Prosecution program. The work allowed me to continue prosecuting our most violent offenders in court, but placed me into one of Milwaukee’s most challenging neighborhoods to create long-term, proactive changes in the community.

What classes, clinics, and professors were influential?
My Criminal Law courses with Professor Walter Dickey and my Constitutional Law courses with Professor Larry Church gave me the foundation in criminal legal issues and an appreciation for the power and responsibility of public interest attorneys. I also did as many clinics as I could and found that those experiences were the most beneficial to my understanding of how law interacted with the real world. One of those experiences was my internship with Professor Mary Prosser in the Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons clinic. I spent a year working with men imprisoned within the Wisconsin prison system, an experience paramount to understanding the criminal justice system’s tremendous impact on victims, offenders, families, and communities.

What concepts did you learn in law school that inform your work today?
The most important lesson a UW-Madison law-in-action student can learn is that the law has profound effects on people in the real world.  Part of the price that legal professionals pay for having significant power in our society is that we must put our own self-interest behind our dedication to using the law in a socially just and responsible way.

Benjamin Wesson 

Benjamin Wesson


Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Education: B.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison (International Relations), J.D., University of Wisconsin Law School
Employment: Assistant District Attorney, Milwaukee County
Law School Activities:

  • UW Law Study Abroad, Santiago, Chile
  • Law Clerk, State of Wisconsin Department of Justice Medicaid Fraud Control Unit
  • Judicial Intern, Court of Appeals, Dist. IV
  • Law Clerk, Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown Law Offices
  • International Law Society

Q: What led you to this work?
During law school, I was drawn to practice areas and subject matter shaped by societal forces and public policy. While public interest legal practice provided a natural bridge between my academic interests and the “real world,” I wanted my work to have an immediate and tangible impact. I joined the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office as DA John Chisholm’s first hire. His prosecution philosophy encouraged me to think about my role as a prosecutor in non-traditional ways. As a prosecutor in this office, you have the unique opportunity to use your law degree at both the micro and macro level in serving the public good.

What classes, clinics, and professors were influential?
Professor Ben Kempinen’s criminal law course was my first class at UW Law and it had a lasting impact on me.  Criminal law brings out strong human reactions as it affects people in a wide variety of ways. Through his unique presentation style, Professor Kempinen removed the Hollywood distortions and prodded us to think about the gray areas of the law.

International Comparative Law courses at UW Law were always interesting and insightful. My Latin American comparative law course focused on the criminal justice reform movement in the region. By studying the criminal justice systems of other countries, I gained a new perspective on our system.
 
Through UW Law School, I worked as a law clerk with Wisconsin’s Department of Justice’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. This gave me my first in-depth exposure to prosecution and how it can help the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens. 

What concepts did you learn in law school that inform your work today?
Simply put, context matters.  Strict black letter law application leaves little room for the “big picture.”  I cannot do my job effectively by blindly applying black letter law in a linear fashion. The decisions I make impact a variety of stakeholders and it is my responsibility as a prosecutor to understand and take their interests into account in order to pursue a more just outcome. Undoubtedly, the law-in-action approach I embraced at UW is the foundation for my work with the Community Prosecution Unit.

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