Sunday, July 31, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

 John Chisholm may  actually be running against
a right-wing plot, not a candidate.
In a previous commentary on why John Chisholm must be re-elected as Milwaukee County district attorney, I dismissed his Aug. 9  opponent as hardly worth the ink of writing her name.  I still believe that and I think Chisholm is so far ahead in community endorsements as well as national reputation that this is really not a contest. 

In the real world.

But then I had not realized the depth of her ineptitude, the fuzziness of  her resume and the extent of the  big money of Eric O’Keefe (furious over the John Doe probe led by Chisholm) and the orchestrated ministrations of his public relations cohort Craig Petersen, all  lavished inexplicably on a candidate who would never survive public scrutiny in office.

Knowing that she would never last – and never has -- led me to wonder why O’Keefe couldn’t find a better lawyer to run if he wanted to seduce the black community into blaming Chisholm for all of society’s ills.

And that led me to ask legal experts if, as crazy as it sounds,  this wasn’t a master plan right out of the right-wing playbook because of a quirk in the state law.

I am painfully aware that the  invoking of conspiracy theories, as I am about to do,   is usually the mantra of dirty politics from politicians losing badly.  Well, Chisholm will likely win big.  

The only dangers he faces are  unhappiness on the fringes of Black Lives Matter and mainly radio ad money – in a community dominated by influential right-wing talk radio – that could upset common sense and favorable public impressions. Those are being exploited, and it is important for the voters to consider the unseen consequences of their Aug. 9 vote.

Let me first outline how much Verona Swanigan has misled the public – not just her explanation for a little-known bankruptcy, not just her professed surprise that she represented an oft-fined landlord in nearly 300 evictions, not just her writing a book of erotic poetry,  as revealed by JS columnist Dan Bice.  

Her actual work resume is short on facts and long on insistence that she has “worked in all areas of the justice system from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections as a Probation and Parole Officer, Social Worker in Milwaukee at La Causa Wraparound, Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, Fresno County Public Defender’s Office, and private practice as a Criminal Defense attorney.”

Let’s pull that apart bit by bit since Swanigan has declined probing interviews.  The state department of corrections reveals she was a parole agent long ago for 15 months -- from “8/31/1998 to 12/20/1999.” That’s far scantier  than suggested by  the prominent placement in her resume. 

The Fresno District Attorney’s office reports  she was there less than nine months in 2006  as a paralegal.  (The Fresno Public Defender’s office – under new management after an ACLU lawsuit in 2013 citing widespread failures in representation – did not return inquiries.)

Her criminal defense experience is dotted with failures to appear, sanctions by judges and total lack of stick-to-itiveness, an essential quality for any DA. Hard, steady work is not in her repertoire and medical problems seem the reason.

Pore over the 55 pages of Swanigan’s 2012 bankruptcy filing. Much of her court problems indirectly unfold in the nearly half a million in liabilities ($448,508.62) with minimal assets. The bulk is mortgage and  Las Vegas property but below that in volume is a parade of unpaid, persistent medical bills (taking on new ones while still owing old ones) and collection agency debt that may or may not relate to medical problems. 

If this doesn’t blows up her qualifications, take a persistent stroll through her court records in California, Wisconsin and,  more rarely,  federal court, where noted District Judge Lynn Adelman once dismissed one of her cases “with prejudice” for her lack of follow-through. Examine the dearth of real trial experience. This does more than underline what Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy revealed in a recent column – she has minimal court experience compared to Chisholm. 

As a criminal defense attorney she has withdrawn often from cases both here and in California -- cited and even fined by the courts for failure to appear, racking up continuances and adjournments. The examples are a drumbeat --  more than two dozen docket entries documenting  such failures including several “no shows”  often coupled with case dismissals, sometimes turning the responsibility to perform back on fellow lawyers.  It’s always hard to read underneath the daily machinations of court proceedings, but this record is flat scary --  not only paucity in court  appearance but also chronic ineffectiveness.

Why would she have been picked to front the big O’Keefe money used to pay her heavy advertising in this race?

Why is she being supported by former alderman Michael McGee Jr. who blames Chisholm in part for the seven years he spent in prison for bribery? (That was actually led by a federal prosecutor with Chisholm’s office cooperating.) 

Solicitation for  votes on Facebook
Currently McGee  and Shalonda Ezell, a mother whose child was injured in a traffic accident, are on Facebook announcing they bought a party bus and have gift cards for people willing to vote for Lena Taylor and Swanigan (doesn’t this come close to the vote buying scandal that landed McGee in trouble 10  years ago?).
Why is she being introduced to Republican women by conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna to encourage them to ignore their own party’s primary and cross over to the Democrats?  O’Keefe has spent a lot of money convincing Republicans that the John Doe was a “partisan witch hunt” – a case of saying an untruth so often and loudly that people believe it –and that’s part of what Swanigan is selling to Republican women far removed from the realities of the Courthouse.
Yes, she is a black woman from a respected Milwaukee family – but even with that, why should the militant sectors of the black community vote for her?  Are they that distrustful of a white district attorney who has reduced Milwaukee black incarcerations by 18%, has convicted dozens of police officers  and is striving mightily to reform the justice system and restore health, wellness and return from prison for the black community?

The frustration on central city streets  has a militant edge,  but is that embedded enough to play pawn to right-wing money? Or is her presence merely temporary?

O'Keefe has a history of working in the shadows.
I suspect temporary  --  that Swanigan is a placeholder for a deeper right-wing takeover of Milwaukee justice. Several independent legal experts believe my theory makes unsettling sense. They think,  given the history of O’Keefe and Petersen, “temporary” could  indeed be the master plan.

Swanigan is on record as complaining she is debilitated by Fibromyalgia, described as  “widespread musculoskeletal pain” accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. A top neurologist interviewed says it is a real disease and actually  a brain problem.

"People are disabled to some degree and the stress of full time employment generally leads to accelerated exacerbations of greater magnitude.  There are no known cures but chronic, ongoing cycles of exacerbations and partial remissions."

In simple non-medical terms, she is a setup for departure.

Apparently O’Keefe thinks  any black lawyer right now will appeal to the militant attitude in the community. And make no mistake, the upset over police relations is not just militants but captures a good portion of the black community in its emotion, sometimes outweighing  a more reasoned approach. I find any treatment of the black community as easily manipulated fools reprehensible,  given the constructive instincts and religious values within  that community. But then again, David Clarke keeps getting re-elected sheriff if faced by a moderate white officer in the Milwaukee police department.

We now arrive at that  quirk in the state law.

In the unlikely event she wins Aug. 9, there is no Republican in the race and she would be automatically elected Nov. 8 and take office early in January. Then she could resign for medical reasons and Gov.  Scott Walker would name a replacement.

This is the state law – Wisconsin Statute 8.50 – that most citizens don’t realize. The governor can step in and name a replacement for four years should the elected DA resign for any reason. No special  election, just four years of his choice.

Legal and political experts believe Chisholm will win handily but still found my theory  plausible, given the machinations of O’Keefe and Petersen in the past and rumors of a last minute ad rush. They have floated their own supposedly Democratic candidates or political coalitions against the party’s choices. They have attempted to influence city policy from the shadows.

This idea flowed naturally  to mind exploring her record. Still, I’m not big on conspiracy theories. I’m not connected to the Chisholm campaign, yet I worried that people who don’t know me would suspect a dirty campaign trick.

But Swanigan has been so murky about her qualifications, and so erratic in her court and financial records going back a decade, that her choice by O’Keefe and Petersen invites doubt.

Since I was born in Manhattan let me steal a line from Michael Bloomberg’s speech at the Democratic convention about Trump: “I’m from New York and I know a con when I see one.”

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for


  1. One of the first election law changes, Scott Walker and Republicans made in 2011 is to change the Fall 2016 Wisconsin Partisan Primary from September to August. The objective is to confuse the vote on college campuses, and run a fake Democrat in subsequently lower-turn-out, August primaries of opportunity.

    The GOP scheme did not work, but reports up north are Republicans are working to vote for Russ Feingold's opponent, in an effort to get Feingold to make expenditures before September. The effort to get Chisholm and others will fail, but not for lack of trying on the part of Republicans.

  2. I agree, MAL, but it did work in the sense that we are now stuck with August for primaries rather than the period right after Labor Day.

  3. When is Chisholm going to counter back on the ads that Verona Swanigan is running on WTMJ radio? The end of the ad says that the current officeholder didn't even take a bar exam. No, Swanigan, he didn't have to. He graduated from a top rated law school (#33) and was exempt from taking the bar exam if he practiced law in WI. Swanigan, on the other hand graduated from a 4th tier (#150) law school that US News describes as "easy to get into". Swanigan then decided to open an ambulance chasing practice in WI and per the rules was required to take the bar. It might be interesting to know how many times that Swanigan had to take the bar before they passed. Your ads are sleazy Swanigan. And of course Sykes talks about Chisholm being sleazy. If anyone knows sleazy it would be Sykes. Married 3x, cheated on the first 2 wives and very likely the 3rd one too. Sounds like Rump! A 3rd rate radio hack who couldn't land a job in academia and we can all be thankful for that.

    1. It's well past time for Chisholm to leak the facts on John Doe, and show the money train. I'm figuring that's coming as soon as SCOTUS reverses the WMC 4 on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the bomb gets dropped.

      Makes you wonder how often Sykes and other WTMJ/Bradley personnel are named in the Doe, doesn't it? There's NOTHING Chuckles says in politics that is from his own mind- Icki ("Iam AFP/Koch") McKenna thinks Sykes is a paid off puppet

    2. As of Aug.8, here's where we stand:
      No. 15M121. John T. Chisholm, et al., Petitioners v. Two Unnamed Petitioners, et al.
      Waiting for October

  4. Here is another issue. I don't think there are any Republican primary races on the ballot. That means all Republican's can crossover and vote in the Dem primary.

    1. Fortunately you're partially wrong. In the south suburbs (where David Clarke's victory margin came from in 2014, thanks to a huge crossover), they're in Paul Ryan's congressional district. I doubt many Republicans there will pass up that race to back a bizarre Democrat, no matter who backs her.

  5. Today, Aug 15, Attorney General Brad Schimel filed a brief opposing the petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court filed by the prosecutors in the John Doe case (Chisholm, et al. v. Two Unnamed Petitioners).

  6. Schimel has happily wasted taxpayer money before, but the writ of certiorari is actually bucking the odds, since statistically these writs seldom succeed. But this one has a good chance because of a direct attack on some centric SCOTUS principles.