Written by Lance Leonhard
On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed Sara’s Law, a measure meant to provide increased protection to guardian ad litems and other lawyers in family law–related cases.
The law is named in honor of Wausau attorney Sara Quirt-Sann, who was killed in the March 22, 2017, shootings by the husband of a woman she was representing in the couple’s divorce.
Governor Walker signed the law in the recently dedicated Sara Quirt-Sann Memorial Courtroom at the Marathon County Courthouse, surrounded by members of Sara’s family and representatives of Wausau Metro Strong, a local group that worked to create the bill.
Why is Sara’s Law necessary?
You might be surprised to learn that perhaps the most contentious, emotionally charged, and potentially volatile cases in our court system are those that involve family law — not criminal prosecutions or large civil cases. Tensions run high because the stakes are often far more personal than issues of punishment or of money.
In Divorce Actions, courts are tasked with making decisions on who gets to stay in the marital home, when and how often parents get to see their kids, and how to split up the marriage.
In Child Protection Actions, courts wrestle with the abuse and neglect of children and families that struggle to overcome substantial obstacles.
And, in Commitment, Guardianship, and Protective Placement Actions, courts confront issues of mental health, alcohol and drug dependency, and individual disability facing families within Marathon County.
There are no easy answers, and quite often everyone involved in the process feels traumatized.
Whether you are…
- A guardian ad litem — charged with making a recommendation in the best interests of a child or disabled adult,
- A corporation counsel — working on behalf of the County to pursue these cases, or
- A private attorney — advocating on behalf of your client,
…you work in a high-stress, high-emotion environment.
So, how does Sara’s Law work?
At its core, the law is premised on a simple idea:
For our court system to work effectively, we need guardian ad litems, corporation counsels, and other attorneys to be able to do their work without influence through intimidation or threats.
Sara’s Law expands the protection that had previously existed for law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, and other certain professions to guardian ad litems, corporation counsels, and attorneys in specified cases. The law specifically prohibits someone from harming or threatening to harm a guardian ad litem, corporation counsel, or attorney — or a member of that person’s family — in response to an act that the guardian ad litem, corporation counsel, or attorney took as part of his or her job in a specific case, making it a Class H felony to do so.
For members of Sara’s family and members in the legal community, the signing of Sara’s Law is an important step in healing.
Scott Sann, Sara’s husband, noted:
“What Sara would be most proud of today was that the change came without yelling, without fighting, without slander, basically without negativity, which we see too often today.”
Representative Pat Snyder, one of the law’s initial sponsors, explained that the law is the first of its kind in the country and will likely be “groundbreaking nationwide” to address the difficult issues that these legal professionals confront.
If you want to learn more about Wausau Metro Strong — to work to make Wausau a safer community for all — I invite you to contact me or to visit the Wausau Metro Strong Facebook page.
Marathon County Deputy Administrator
Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends. Email Lance Leonhard.
You might also like…
- Drug Recovery Court Up & Running :: Get to Know Marathon County’s New Court Coordinator, Kala Frueh
- University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point (UWSP) Reimagines Its Curriculum
- Financial Hardship in Marathon County :: What the ALICE Report Reveals About Local Jobs & Wages
Please email our Editorial Board with your comments, suggestions, and article ideas.
And if you spot a typo or an inaccuracy, please contact us so we can fix it. Thanks!